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The Little-Known, Grim Inspiration for 'Food Truck Voting' in Ada County


  • George Prentice
In the summer of 2016, Ada County Chief Deputy Clerk Phil McGrane shared with Boise Weekly some of the first schematics of what would become known as "food truck voting," a dazzling, burst-of-colors mobile polling unit that Ada County would soon roll out to satellite locations across the county, in an effort to increase accessibility to the voting process.

"We're hopeful that early voting will continue to grow here," McGrane told BW. "How should I describe this? We're going to be 'food truck voting.'"

The idea caught plenty of national attention; even Food & Wine magazine reported the news.

The mobile voting unit made its debut during the 2016 General Election cycle and has since gained in popularity. But what most voters don't know is that the true inspiration for the mobile unit stemmed from the real possibility of tragedies: devastating weather storms and school shootings.

"Quite frankly, we needed to be ready in case of tragedy," said McGrane. "Think back to Hurricane Sandy in 2012, which hit just before Election Day. They had to shut down nearly half of the polling places in the New York area. I don't know what would happen if we had to do that."

  • ada county elections
And then, an unsettling series of active shooter incidents gained in frequency across the U.S. In fact, a little-known incident in Boise on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013 (Election Day), put Ada County election officials on possible alert. On that date, Boise Police were summoned to a house where a person with a loaded gun was threatening suicide. Because the house was near a Boise school, the district locked down the school as a precaution for about an hour. But the school was also an active Ada County polling place.

"By the time we got word of the police action, the matter was resolved. Miraculously, no one showed up to vote at that polling place in that hour's time, but it begs the question: What would we have done? The number one thing we must never do is disenfranchise someone's right to vote," said McGrane. "So we started planning."

  • Ada County Elections
Three years and $50,000 later, a mobile voting unit became reality. Indeed, it is a high-profile tool, which has since inspired other election districts around the U.S. to use as a model to develop their own "food truck voting" unit. But in case of emergency, it is, more importantly, ready to roll to protect the integrity of the voting process. Simply put, the unit could be stationed in a safe section of a neighborhood if a nearby polling precinct needs to be locked down.

"We're constantly trying to find out efficient ways to facilitate as many voters as possible," said McGrane.

When early voting opportunities begin Monday, Oct. 15 in Ada County - there will be three brick-and-mortar venues at Boise and Meridian city halls and the Ada County Elections office on N. Benjamin Lane - election officials will again roll out their "food truck" mobile polling unit to locations across the county. Here's the schedule:
  • October 15: Garden City Library
  • October 16: Kuna Albertsons
  • October 17: Eagle Library
  • October 18: Star Library
  • October 19: HP Campus Bldg. #1
  • October 22: Lake Hazel Library
  • October 23: Albertsons Stadium Plaza
  • October 24: Micron
  • October 25: Kuna City Hall
  • October 26: Blue Cross of Idaho
  • October 29: Meridian Fred Meyer
  • October 30: Micron
  • October 31: Eagle Albertsons
  • November 1: Borah Post Office
  • November 2: Borah Post Office
Polls will be open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.