BOISE, Idaho (AP) – Idaho election workers say it’s no longer enough to encourage people to get out to the polls. Instead, they say, it’s time to bring the polls to the people.
In the state’s most populous Ada County, Chief Deputy Clerk Phil McGrane designed food truck-inspired voting stations to entice voters to cast ballots early for the general election.
Voters who head to the voting trailers, he said, also have the advantage of not having to figure out where their regular polling place is located.
Since fixed voting locations must meet multiple requirements, McGrane figured it would be a good idea to make early polling stations mobile and asked, “Why can’t we just build our own?”
The new voting trailers he unveiled Tuesday are brightly painted red, white and blue with images of a friendly cartoonish Uncle Sam and “I voted” splashed on all sides. Each one cost about $50,000.
McGrane said he was unaware of any other U.S. county or state mounting a similar effort to get out the vote.
“We typically hear of efforts making it harder for people to vote,” said Leo Morales, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho. “So the fact that this county is making it more accessible is commendable.”
He described the effort as unique and hoped that the trailers would make stops to lure voters in areas that typically have low turnout.
Starting in October, the four trailers will spend the three weeks leading up to the November election being hauled around to towns and cities in Ada County so residents can vote early without having to go to their designated precincts.
Poll workers will use previous voting data to determine the best locations to park and attract high concentrations of voters, including spots near major employers and hospitals. On election day, the trailers will be kept ready for duty as emergency backup polling places if needed.
County clerks across the state are expecting record voter turnout numbers in November. That means some may have to wait hours to cast ballots. And in Idaho, about 74 percent of the state’s registered voters voted in the 2012 presidential election.
Promoting early voting helps make voting easier for citizens and reduces stress for election workers, McGrane said.
Idaho and 36 other U.S. states offer various ways to vote early, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Critics say making early voting easier and more convenient could lead to more fraud. But supporters counter that early voting increases turnout, particularly among minorities.
Boise resident Kristi Poole updated her voter registration paperwork at one of the new trailers Tuesday, saying the effort is an effective way to ensure citizen voting access.
“Any way we can make it easier for people to register and cast their vote is a good idea,” said Poole.
McGrane said he hoped the voting trailer experiment will convince other Idaho counties to mount similar efforts.