Drive-thru voting, ballot drop-offs pop up in Minnesota, Texas, other states
Multiple jurisdictions throughout the U.S. are offering drive-thru voting and ballot drop-offs ahead of the 2020 presidential election in an innovative effort to promote safe and secure voting during the coronavirus pandemic.
Just as drive-thru COVID-19 testing became more prevalent as states brainstormed socially distant testing measures, counties across the U.S. are offering drive-thru or curbside voting and voter registration programs, as well as ballot drop-offs.
“Folks are taking advantage of this,” Katie Lauer, a Minneapolis 2020 census outreach coordinator, told Fox News.
Like many other states, curbside voting has been around for years, mostly to ensure the safety of voters with disabilities who can not vote in person on Nov. 3. This year, she said, State Secretary Steve Simon opened curbside voting to any Minnesotan who wishes to vote from a vehicle.
Minneapolis Elections & Voter Services held drive-thru voting and opened two drive-thru ballot dropoff locations for absentee and mail-in ballots in August for its primary election.
“Here in Minneapolis…the numbers were pretty low,” Lauer said of those who chose to take part in curbside voting, but that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been a large turnout; it just means people are generally comfortable with voting in-person or by mail.
At a Minneapolis curbside voting location, one can find election judges helping voters in their cars, talking to voters, handing them an iPad to verify their registration, giving verified voters physical paper ballots to fill out from the safety of their vehicles, putting completed ballots in a tabulator and giving voters a sticker to confirm that their ballots have been submitted, Lauer explained.
Harris County and Travis County have organized drive-thru voting measures; Harris County offered early drive-thru early polling locations on Oct. 29 and 30. Tarrant County organized an early ballot drop-off location that is open between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
“My number one priority is to keep voters and poll workers safe,” said Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins said in a statement on July 22 after the county conducted a drive-thru voting test run. “The feedback we received from the Drive-Thru Voting pilot proves that voters felt safe exercising their right to vote and that it was an easy and efficient alternative to going inside a voting center.”
A Travis County spokesperson said the county is “still exploring every option to determine how [it] can best serve the voters.”
Outside of Minnesota and Texas, jurisdictions in states including Arizona, Michigan, California, Virginia, Alabama and others have also successfully implemented drive-thru voting and ballot drop-off locations.
In Coconino County, Arizona, election officials in Flagstaff have a drive-up service window for early voting, Coconino County Recorder Patty Hansen said.
“We are also offering drive-up/ballot drop off service at a few locations in our county where we could not find secure locations for a ballot dropbox. This service will start the week after the early ballots are mailed to voters on October 12th,” Hansen added.
Madison County, Alabama, is offering “Absentee Voter Assistance Sites” that “will operate as drive-thru only to ensure quicker assistance and provide for social distancing,” according to the county’s voter resource website.
“Personal protective equipment will be in place and used by those administering the process. These sites will operate a total of 15 days during the month prior to the General Election,” the website states.
The Oakland-Alameda County, Calif., Coliseum Arena is offering in-person voting, curbside voting and drop-off locations for completed ballots.
“These unprecedented times have opened the door to new partnerships and creative strategies to enable safe, secure and convenient ways for Alameda County residents to cast their ballots,” Scott Haggerty, Alameda County supervisor and Colesium Authority commissioner, said in a statement.
The efforts are likely to make the voting process easier during the pandemic as voters express concern over President Trump’s remarks about potential mail-in ballot fraud and virus exposure in crowded polling places. Many U.S. counties offered drive-thru voting earlier this year during primary elections.
“I don’t see why this couldn’t be a safe and secure way of voting while also taking into account the possibility of infecting other voters,” Ted Allen, an associate professor of Integrated Systems Engineering at The Ohio State University with experience studying in-person voting methods, told Fox News.
The difference between states’ voting methods and drive-thru voting services will be in the details, he said.
“Drive-thru by itself is obviously not a problem but implications could cause disastrous problems if not planned properly,” he said, adding that “lines are quite predictable” at a voting place, and officials should prepare ahead of time with “enough workers and multiple cues,” big signs that direct drivers and appropriate technology since some voters and election officials could have trouble with tablets.
“I’ve gained a healthy respect for election officials and their ability to [prepare],” Allen said when asked whether it’s too late for jurisdictions to implement drive-thru voting or ballot drop-offs for early voting or on Nov. 3.
He added that “as long as there is good flow through the parking lot, it doesn’t seem like a major change that could cause major problems,” but “the details do matter.”
“There are complications, but there are complications with voting [in genera] during COVID,” he said.
Maryland state Del. Michelle Guyton has been pushing for the state to adopt curbside voting since she testified before the Maryland State Board of Elections (BOE) August.
“A voter arrives, is handed a ballot which they and fill out in the privacy and safety of their car, and then hands it to a poll worker or puts it directly in a machine,” Guyton said in her testimony. “Current polling places, as well as drive-thru COVID-19 testing stations, can generally accommodate this option.”
Guyton told Fox News that she was “disappointed that the BOE did not follow up or proactively investigate this option” after she presented it to them during a Ways and Means Committee hearing on a bill to increase voter access for those who have disabilities.”
“I never received any response to this suggestion from the Board and so I am unable to share their explanation for not considering this option,” she said. “…I do hope that moving forward the BOE and General Assembly will consider this option as a way to increase voter turnout and confidence, while also simplifying the process and keeping voters and poll workers safe.”
Organizations have also stepped in to host drive-though voter registration events; many groups shared notices for these events on social media to help spread the word. In Texas, for example, the nonprofit MOVE Texas community outreach organization hosted a drive-thru voter registration event in San Antonio on Sept. 16.