How 'Food Truck Voting' Is Catching On In One Idaho County

Oct 29, 2016
Originally published on October 31, 2016 10:20 am

Elections officials in one Idaho county have found a delicious new way to get out the vote: by bringing "food truck voting" straight to the people.

OK, so it's not a real food truck. You can't get a meal there.

The Ada County mobile voting booth is actually a converted cargo trailer, complete with walk-up windows and a giant "I voted" sticker painted on the side. As the most populous county in Idaho (the capital of Boise is the county seat and most urban city in the mostly rural state), Chief Deputy Clerk Phil McGrane says the mobile trailer adds a fifth option to early voting locations in Ada County.

The county expects 200,000 people will vote this election, and McGrane hopes to get 60,000 of those votes early.

"So far we've been able to vote almost 2,000 people for this election by moving the trailer around to some of our biggest employers and some of our really highly populated areas," says McGrane.

So, where did food truck design come from? Believe it or not, McGrane says he was inspired by his love of Kansas City barbecue.

"One of my hobbies on the side is competitive barbecue," says the elections official. "And if you were to go see me set up, you'd see pop-up tents and a trailer, and so it's taking some of those ideas and just flipping it for voting."

Earlier this week, the voting booth was parked outside Idaho Power's Boise headquarters. Employees came down during their lunch break to cast their ballots early. Brooks Reynolds walked a few blocks from his job in downtown, and says it was a convenient way to make his voice heard.

"I actually heard from a friend of mine, and then I was like, 'Oh yeah — I want to go do that now,' " Reynolds says. "And I actually shared it with my siblings and friends and they're all doing it as well."

As the 29-year-old leaves the trailer he puts his "I voted" sticker on his jacket.

To Phil McGrane, making voting convenient makes all the difference between a low turnout year and high turnout year. The county's goal this year is 75 percent turnout, and so far — they're on track to meet that goal, while tripling the record of early votes cast.

"People often associate elections with long lines — the reason being everyone gets off work and goes to the polls at the same time," says McGrane. "Voting on a Tuesday doesn't make sense for a lot of people; this provides an opportunity where they can plan it out, fit it into their schedule, get their vote cast."

The food truck voting system works because of a computerized voter roll, which makes it easy to print off ballots, no matter what precinct a voter lives in. McGrane says the county hired a cybersecurity company to ensure the integrity of the process.

But in an election year marred by allegations of voter suppression and fraud, Ada County is not without its critics.

"We are acutely aware of what's going on nationally and we see it here locally as well. Interestingly enough, some guy drove by earlier and yelled that the election is rigged. And so we see it in full force."

Ada County spent about $50,000 on the trailer and all the equipment that goes with it, which is a fraction of their 2016 election budget (they plan to spend between $800,000-900,000). McGrane says the design could easily be replicated in other parts of the state for counties that want to make the investment.

He sees the booth as the wave of the future in elections, relieving the pressure put on polling places on election night.

Copyright 2017 Boise State Public Radio. To see more, visit Boise State Public Radio.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Early voting is underway across the country, and one county in Idaho is serving up a twist - a mobile voting booth that moves to different locations kind of like a food truck, but it offers ballots instead of burritos. Frankie Barnhill of Boise State Public Radio reports.

FRANKIE BARNHILL, BYLINE: It's lunchtime in downtown Boise. A line of people forms outside a bright blue cargo trailer parked in an office building lot. A loud generator hums, feeding power to the trailer. Phil McGrane is the elections official who came up with the new Ada County mobile voting booth. Locals describe it as food truck voting and it was inspired by - get this - McGrane's love of Kansas City barbecue.

PHIL MCGRANE: One of my hobbies on the side is competitive barbecue. And if you were to go see me set up, you'd see some pop-up tents and a trailer. And so it's taking some of those ideas and just flipping it for voting.

BARNHILL: Voters check in at the window, then turn to fill out their paper ballots in the covered tent. An electronic ballot box waits for them at the exit, along with the I Voted sticker. And because it's 2016, people have been exercising their right to selfie with the cartoon Uncle Sam painted along the side of the trailer.

MCGRANE: We're pretty happy to see that because we think it helps spread the word.

BARNHILL: The attention-grabbing nature of the mobile polling place is intentional, and it seems to be working. Boise voter Mary Lucachick saw the booth on Facebook and decided to cast her vote here.

MARY LUCACHICK: I was a little curious about the whole mobile voting thing. I just thought it would be kind of fun to check it out. I've never voted early before.

BARNHILL: Ada County has a computerized voter roll, which makes it easy to print off ballots no matter what precinct a voter lives in. McGrane sees the booth as the wave of the future in elections, relieving the pressure put on polling places on election night. At $50,000, the cost of the voting trailer is low compared to the rest of the county's election budget.

MCGRANE: Our effort is to get people to vote. Whether that's in Ada County or in any other state in the United States, we want to spread the word.

BARNHILL: Ada County is on track to triple its previous early voting record thanks in part to the popularity of food truck voting. For NPR News, I'm Frankie Barnhill in Boise. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.