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County offers curb service for voters

If voters can’t make it to the ballot box, then Kitsap County will bring the ballot box to the voters.

Next week the county will launch its Votemobile, a voting machine-equipped van scheduled to visit 19 locations between Oct. 25 and Nov. 5.

“We will bring the ability to vote to the people who have trouble filling out a mail ballot or visiting the courthouse to vote,” said Kitsap County Auditor Karen Flynn. “This could serve as a model for how people vote in the future, both across the state and across the country.

“People with disabilities feel more comfortable voting close to their homes,” she said. “So we’re bringing the ability to vote to wherever they are located.”

“We’re pretty excited about this,”said Elections Supervisor Dolores Gilmore. “It does a better job of bringing services to the public and gives disabled voters the same options as anyone else.”

Flynn and Gilmore have worked on the idea since 2005, but all the pieces came together last week — just in time for the 2007 election. The last step — affixing a custom decal to the side of the truck — was scheduled for Monday.

“We called it the ‘Votemobile’ because that name would be easily recognized,” Flynn said. ”Everyone knows what a bookmobile is.”

The 2005 Chevy Van — which was already in use by the Auditor’s Office for transporting materials — was retrofitted with a chair lift and tie-down mechanisms to move the heavy equipment.

The van will carry two voting machines to each location. They will either be moved into the facility or connected within the cargo area.

In this case, the truck is equipped for entry and exit through different doors, just like a regular polling place.

Kitsap County switched to a mail-only ballot system in 2005 in response to 2002’s Help America Vote Act, which required any on-site election system to be equipped for all disabled voters.

At the time, the county would have needed to purchase enough accessible voting machines to accommodate all voters, which would have cost upwards of $750,000.

Instead, the county complied by switching to an all-mail system and providing accessible voting machines in select county locations.

This was not a resounding success, as only 241 people used the machines in the 2006 General Election — and most were able-bodied voters or county employees.

Flynn and Gilmore hope the Votemobile will gather more votes this year, in an off-year election, than the entire total collected by the machines in 2006.

Flynn said the program will not be affected by any possible budget cuts. It is not more expensive than providing the same service as in past years, and is part of the Auditor’s responsibility in the first place.

“The requirement is a federal mandate,” she said. “And this is the best way to meet that responsibility.”

Most of the Votemobile’s scheduled locations are care centers. Any registered voter can cast their ballots during the visit, either using the machine or using a drop box.

Voters can find the locations by visuting www.kitsapgov.com/aud/, referring to a pamphlet distributed by the Auditor or by calling (360) 331-7128.

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