Pandemic accelerates plans to do away with day-of-election sites with drive-thru stations
CLARK COUNTY — Necessity is the mother of invention might be the slogan of the COVID-19 era, and that is certainly true when it comes to Clark County Elections.
The plan to expand the number of those big red, permanent, drive-up ballot box stations was in the works for a while, but the pandemic has accelerated that. Ten new stations have been purchased and will be installed across the county in time for election 2020.
“We are working with different locations to determine what would be good locations,” said Elections Supervisor Cathie Garber. “We are trying to do it based on population, convenience, and easy access. The requirements that the state law says is that there must be a site in every census designated place and one per every 15,000 voters.”
The central reason for the faster implementation of the boxes is directly tied to the pandemic, Garber said. With many day-of-election sites housed within schools, and schools being closed or strictly regulated, these sites would become difficult.
The county recently added three new boxes, which are ready now, for the August elections. There will still be a few day-of locations in August, but come November they hope to be completely reliant on the drive-up stations, Garber said.
“Asking voters to come inside a school is pretty problematic for the schools themselves with unauthorized people coming inside,” Garber said. “The election day-only sites are open only on Election Day, and they can only come in the 13-hour period. But a 24-hour dropbox makes it much more convenient. Most of them are drive up, you don’t even have to get out of your car. Somebody who works an odd shift or very late at night can pull up and drop them off.”
The new boxes will open 18 days prior to election day, and will remain open until 8 p.m. that night. Currently, the county has about seven or eight active boxes, and hopes to have 21 operational by November. They will also maintain a spare box in case one is hit by a vehicle, which has happened in the past.
All the new boxes are high capacity and cost approximately $2,800 each, with the entire project coming in at just under $30,000. Each box will still be painted red, just like the county’s oldest and most well-known station on Esther Street in downtown Vancouver; lovingly named Big Red.
The new box sites are currently being determined with the help of cities and communities like La Center, Amboy and Yacolt. On the August primary election voters pamphlet, the most recent three boxes will be listed, and likewise in November when the other 10 are installed. If you have not registered to vote, Garber highly encouraged doing that online via www.clarkvotes.org.
“We’re just trying to encourage people to connect with us remotely rather than coming in person,” Garber said. “We want to protect our community also and make sure that we don’t have any long lines for November. We just ask people if they have moved to update their address as soon as possible so we can get a ballot sent to them for the proper jurisdictions that they reside in.”