FLORENCE – It looks like a food truck, complete with window and counter on the side. The big item on the menu is democracy.

Pinal County officials unveiled their new Mobile Voter Outreach Van, the first of its kind in Arizona, to invited guests Thursday morning.

The van will be equipped to register voters, provide information and collect early ballots. It can visit schools, demonstrate voting and register students to vote. In a pinch, it can also be an “emergency polling site” if a polling places runs into a problem on Election Day, Pinal County Recorder Virginia Ross told attendees.

She said she first saw vans like this in Boise, Idaho, and Denver, Colorado, and the public seemed to respond well to them. When Ross shared the idea with the Arizona Clean Elections Commission, “we knew that it fit into the mission and the heart of the Clean Elections Act,” Gina Roberts, Clean Elections voter education director, said.

Pinal County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mike Goodman, R-San Tan Valley, said the board was equally happy to green-light the idea and approve the purchase of the van. Clean Elections arranged for a graphic designer to create the vehicle wrap.

“We’re excited about this opportunity,” Goodman said. “We’re grateful for the many individuals who put their time and effort into making this happen, especially our staff.”

Many people think their votes don’t count, “and that is so untrue, as many of us know,” Goodman said. “In that environment, it’s important that we increase the opportunity for our citizens to participate, to be active, to be involved in that process. … Anything we can do to promote participation is worthwhile.”

Goodman said increasing voter turnout has been a goal of his ever since he was elected in 2016. Only about 5,800 people voted in that race, despite more than 54,000 registered voters in San Tan Valley.

Ross said far less than half of young voters and rural voters cast ballots. In special elections or off-year elections, their turnout may be as little as 18 percent. Meanwhile, retirement communities have turnout as high as 85 to 90 percent. The overall number of registered voters age 18-24 is probably half the number of registered voters 55 and older in Pinal County, Ross said.

“We want to use this van as a mobile recorder’s office to try to impact those gaps and voting habits by directly engaging voters where they live,” Ross said.

Roberts added, “When Pinal County voters are living their lives and they’re out in the community with their families, and this truck is at an event … it’s accessible, it allows voters to engage directly with the process.” Clean Elections is also updating its tools, such as its voter dashboard and Clean Elections app, to help voters track the truck.

“They can follow the truck when there are events where the truck will be,” Roberts said. “Voters can find that information on our website. We will help drive voters to this event in their community. We really think this is a phenomenal effort, the innovation is outstanding … and we’re really excited and proud to be a partner with this.”

The last day to register to vote in Arizona’s 2020 presidential preference election is Feb. 18, 2020 and early voting begins the next day. Election Day is March 17.

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Mark Cowling is the county reporter for PinalCentral and covers the town of Florence, San Tan Valley and the surrounding area. He can be reached at mcowling@pinalcentral.com.

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