With an increasing number of options to cast a ballot, Ada County residents are expected to vote early in record numbers this year. Approximately 25,000 absentee ballots were received from Ada County voters in 2016. Compare that to the 130,000-plus absentee ballots that have been mailed out thus far for the 2020 vote.
And now, Ada County has begun early in-person voting at four locations — in Boise, Meridian, Eagle and at the Ada County Elections Office — in addition to the county's mobile voting unit which will visit several communities for the next two-and-a-half weeks.
Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane visits with Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about what changes early voters should expect this year, and how absentee ballots have already begun flooding into election headquarters.
“I encourage all your listeners to get out and vote. It's a great opportunity to do it.”
Read the full transcript below:
GEORGE PRENTICE: It's Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News. Good morning. I'm George Prentice.
We are now three weeks until Election Day 2020. And while there has been much to say about casting a ballot via mail, this morning, we're going to talk a bit more about in-person early voting bill.
Phil McGrane is the Ada County Clerk, and he and his colleagues oversee the largest voting operation in Idaho. Phil, good morning. Early voting begins today. Can you walk us through what that will look like, compared to previous years of early voting?
PHIL MCGRANE: Sure, today is a big day… it's kind of the second big day. We've been working on the absentees, as you and I have discussed in the past, and today, early voting begins. One of the things that has changed this election is for the polling places as well as early voting is just making sure we have enough space to space things out. So, one of the things voters will see is the voting booths spread out at their locations rather than being side by side, as in the past. That's one of the reasons we relocated to the Boise Basque Center this year, for greater social distancing and space to allow people to vote. And when voters show up, they will also see signage asking them to wear a mask. All of the poll workers will be wearing masks, and we will be providing an optional writing utensil for any voter who wants their own writing utensil just to kind of keep the process safe in the midst of not only voting, but COVID as well this year.
PRENTICE: So, the Boise Basque Center, plus the Ada County election headquarters on Benjamin Lane, Meridian City Hall, and the Hope Lutheran Church in Eagle. Plus you're rolling out the mobile voting unit again this year?
MCGRANE: Yes. We will have the mobile voting unit headed around, trying to hit as many areas as we can. I know one of the areas specifically, wll be in Kuna one day a week for all three weeks, just trying to make sure there's enough opportunity for voters to live out that way. But I encourage people to go to the Ada County Election website and they can see the full schedule of where the mobile voting unit will be.
PRENTICE: New voters,,,can they register during in-person early voting?
MCGRANE: Last Friday was the deadline to register in advance of the election. And so now, the opportunity is the same day registration, which simply means registering to vote at the same time that you vote. So, if you want to take advantage of early voting, you can same day register when you vote there, or also registration will be available for same day registration at the polls on Election Day.
PRENTICE: Your poll workers this year, they're being paid?
MCGRANE: Yes, we always pay our poll workers. We're giving them a little bump due to COVID this year as well.
PRENTICE: And a number of them, I'm assuming, are new.
MCGRANE: Yeah, we made a big push at the very beginning of September; and I'm very thankful for the response that we've had. And so, we've still got a healthy portion of our veteran crew. But as most people anticipate, our poll workers are older, and in many instances and some don't feel that it's appropriate to be at the polls. And so, we're adding new members to our workforce in terms of helping make this all happen. So, we are conducting a lot of trainings. And I think this is one more indication of everything this year. We've actually moved our training for poll workers out to the Idaho campus at the old HP facility so that we can have a larger space to both social distance as well as train. So many more poll workers all at once back to voting by mail.
PRENTICE: Can I assume that you're starting to see some of those ballots being returned?
MCGRANE: Absolutely, this has been an interesting election on so many levels, and one of the biggest has been our mailing operation. A little over a week ago, we bailed out about 130,000 absentee ballots for those who had requested them. That was our big surge to kick things off. In comparison, in 2016, we only received 25,000 absentee ballots in total. What I think is most impressive, though, is we're seeing them come back so quickly. People are already voting. They're not waiting for future debates or anything else. They're getting them in. And we've actually had to take additional steps just to handle the huge volume of absentees.
PRENTICE: Give us a sense of that. How early?
MCGRANE: You know, one of the most surprising things is how many of the ballots that went out were received by voters here locally on Friday, October 2nd. And on October 3rd, our Dropbox in front of the building was already full. We had to bring in extra staff this past weekend on Sunday to empty the drop boxes just because they can't go a day without having someone inspect. And we've never had to deal with this in the past. You know, right up to Election Day, the few days before we might put extra resources on the Dropbox. Now we've added more capacity, but still that capacity doesn't seem to be enough for the surge that we're seeing of people come in. And that's why today, with early voting beginning, we're really expecting some a lot of attention towards early voting and possibly some lines as people seem ready and willing to get their votes in as quickly as possible.
PRENTICE: And you're allowing us to track that data. You're going to put that online?
MCGRANE: Yeah, we monitor everything in terms of the voting process. And one of the things that we've done is, as you know, George, on our website, ADA County elections dot com, we have an absentee tracker that someone can follow along all up to the election in terms of how many ballots we've got going out, how many are coming back and any sort of information that people might want to know about that data.
PRENTICE: Well, it's real now. Three weeks until today is Election Day finally and it just gets busier for you and your colleagues. Is Phil McGrain, Ada County Clerk. Phil, best of luck. We'll talk to you very soon.
MCGRANE: Thank you, George. I look forward to and I encourage all your listeners to get out and vote. It's a great opportunity to do it.
Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren
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