Home Innovation Votemobile: Supporting California Wildfire Victims And Seniors

Votemobile: Supporting California Wildfire Victims And Seniors

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Santa Cruz County’s VoteMobile trailer looks like a taco truck, but you can order a ballot instead of tacos. The front of the trailer has two glass windows for customer service, and it is painted vividly with the American Flag and the word “vote” in giant letters on both sides. Let’s just say you cannot miss it when walking through the area. 

As several cities around the country struggle with long lines for early voting, Santa Cruz, California, is working to make voting easier. The new mobile voting center is cruising through the county this election season. It supports those who cannot venture away from their homes because of COVID-19. It’s even supporting families who have just lost their homes to a wildfire.

Since mid-October, VoteMobile has toured farmers’ markets, the homeless support center, and neighborhoods affected by recent wildfires. Elizabeth Perez, who helps run the VoteMobile, said that some people are just so ecstatic to have them around. She also added that it is really very convenient for them.

Perez and her two co-workers have mastered the configuration of VoteMobile, from the simple opening of a canopy that brings shades to four private polling booths to the firing of a generator that drives the VoteMobile. All this is related to the electoral information management system of the county.

Within the trailer, pre-printed ballots for all of the county’s 168 polling stations line the cabinet. If they run out, a broad printer will use the correct ballot on request. VoteMobile is, in effect, the county election office on wheels providing conventional voting in a booth, a drop-off vote for those who have posted mail-in ballots, and assistance to the electorate in Spanish.

On the latest hot and sticky day in Santa Cruz, VoteMobile was stationed in the La Posada Retirement Community. Agnes Huff cast her ballot by VoteMobile.

Huff, who is a veteran, said that she feels excellent every time she votes.

Things have been rough for Huff lately. Her home burned down in the CZU Lightning Complex fire, which was started by lightning in mid-August. According to Cal Fire, the fire burned approximately 86,500 acres in the counties of Santa Cruz and San Mateo.

Among the million things that Huff had on her mind was voting. She needed to be sure she was always able to vote and have her opinions heard. Now, that was certainly going to be a problem.

The CZU Lightning Complex has damaged more than 900 homes in Santa Cruz County alone. For certain voters, mail-in ballots could not be delivered, either because they did not have a change of address, so the ballots were returned to the election office as unworkable, or the residents assumed their ballots would be forwarded automatically, which is not permitted in California.

“This community in Santa Cruz County, we pull for each other,” Gail Pellerin, Santa Cruz County’s chief elections official, said. She added that they want to make sure everybody has access to the ballot. “You don’t see the kind of shenanigans going on in other jurisdictions, in other states here in Santa Cruz County. They truly believe in democracy and the value of any voter getting access to the ballot.”

Pellerin has been searching for a mobile voting center for years. “And when the pandemic hit, I thought, ‘Now is a perfect time,’ ” Pellerin said. Little did she suspect, it will also be useful to fire survivors who have the election office going to them.

Pellerin said that these are really amazing people. She added, “I mean, they are still in the throes of losing their home and figuring out where they’re going next. And they’re calling me saying, ‘I want to make sure I can vote and get my ballot.’ “

Voters are registered at a record level in Santa Cruz County, according to Pellerin. On Monday, October  26, more than 500 people used VoteMobile, from fire survivors to first-time voters and seniors, including 86-year-old Bridget Stennes.

Stennes dropped her mail-in vote in the trailer while it was parked at La Posada, where she lives. La Posada is usually a polling place, but COVID-19 has shifted because of voters’ health needs in a senior housing system.

Stennes said that it’s wonderful and that we need VoteMobiles everywhere. It makes it easy for people to vote. Moreover, it is beneficial for older people who are afraid of the virus and are also afraid to be out there to vote.

First-time voter Ian Ly, 18, stopped by VoteMobile with his wife. He said it was interesting to vote in a pandemic. “Weird situation overall,” Ly said. “It’s a good thing that they have this outdoors so that I can vote safely, and everyone else can vote safely.”


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