At the heart of the South Puget Sound Community College (SPSCC) campus, the college’s main bus loop has been repurposed to serve voters during the upcoming election season. A joint effort between the Thurston County Auditor’s Office and SPSCC, the new Thurston County Auditor’s Office Elections Division’s Voting Center at SPSCC, is a streamlined and socially distanced method of voting, allowing in-person access to Thurston County election services.

A joint effort between the Thurston County Auditor’s Office and SPSCC, the new voting center at SPSCC will be a streamlined and socially distanced method of voting in both the August primary election and November general election. Photo credit: Molly Walsh

As cases of COVID-19 spread across Washington State, it became apparent to Thurston County Auditor, Mary Hall, that the 2020 election process would look different in Thurston County than in previous years. In a presidential election year, the county will face a higher number of in-person voters for both the primary election in August and general election in November.

Typically, in-person voting is conducted at the Thurston County Courthouse. Due to the increase in voters and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, though, it was determined by the Auditor’s Office that the current courthouse voting center is not a suitable venue for this election, because it has limited space and cannot accommodate social distancing practices.

“Presidential years are incredibly intense and you typically have almost twice the volume than even mid-term elections,” says Hall. “It became really evident as soon as this pandemic hit that we were going to have some real challenges with the technical set up we have at the courthouse.”

While brainstorming alternative voting options, Hall and her team devised a drive through voter services model. Inspired by a similar drive through registration event that Hall conducted while working in Pierce County, drive through voting would allow voters to cast a ballot, while also practicing proper physical distancing.

In search of a location that would allow a large volume of cars, Thurston County Assessor and SPSCC Trustee, Steven Drew suggested SPSCC as a possible venue. And for SPSCC leadership, hosting a voting center on campus was a welcome idea. Because fewer students are attending in-person classes on campus, SPSCC was able to offer their facilities to make voting more accessible to Thurston County residents. As classes remain mostly online, SPSCC wanted to use its facilities to best serve the community.

As fewer students attend in-person classes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the college’s main bus loop will be repurposed to accommodate drive through voting in upcoming Thurston County elections. Photo credit: Molly Walsh

“The Auditor’s Office has been awesome to work with,” says Kelly Green, chief community relations officer at SPSCC. “They’re super creative, they’re super willing to work with what we have and we’ve come up with a way to use our campus at a time when unfortunately, we’re not able to have students using it the way we normally would. And so, it’s a great opportunity. We felt like, for us, it is a chance to be a resource to the community in a totally new and different way.”

According to Green, installing a new voting center on campus has been a multi-step production. From technology, to special security measures, the SPSCC Student Union (Building 27) has been retrofitted with new computers  and ample security cameras, transforming into a temporary election office. Inside the Student Union is also a ballot production station, a phone bank and office space for election staff.

Both SPSCC and the Auditor’s Office have also had to create a new communication infrastructure for election workers. Because cell phone coverage is unreliable on the SPSCC campus, election and college staff have had to create a solid system that will allow workers to communicate from different checkpoints.

“More goes into set up than you could ever know,” says Green. “For some of the Auditor’s Office staff, our campus will be their new work site for the primary and presidential election. It’s all of these little things that that they have in place at their normal office, but for now, we’re essentially their temporary office. Their team are just so professional about what they do, they’ve clearly have put a lot of forethought into this and that has made it easier to work with them.”

Streamlining the registration and voting process, the SPSCC voting center will operate in a similar style to a drive through restaurant. Primary election voters can now access election services by entering campus from the college’s Crosby Street entrance. Voters will then be directed by signage to the college’s central bus loop, where there will be two staffed checkpoints.

After receiving their ballot, voters can park in designated parking spots on campus, fill out their ballot and drop their ballot in an on-campus drop box. Photo credit: Molly Walsh

At the first checkpoint, voters can choose the election services they need, including voter registration, requesting a replacement ballot and accessible voting services. After the election worker has gathered the voter’s information, the driver will then move on to the next checkpoint while their ballot is being prepared. At the second checkpoint, the voter can pick up their ballot and drive on to a designated parking lot where they can cast their ballot from their own vehicle.

“What’s great about it and what we were excited that we’re able to do with our campus, is for most voters, they shouldn’t ever have to get out of their car,” explains Green. “We set up an area in one of our parking lots where they can just pull over, park, take their time filling out their ballot and drop it in a ballot drop box. It will minimize contact and the number of people who have to be coming and going from the building.”  Walk in voter services and accessible voting are also available with physical distancing.

For both the August 4 primary election and the November 3 general election, voters will be able to register to vote, obtain a replacement ballot, or use accessible voting services from the Thurston County Auditor’s Office Elections Division’s Voting Center at SPSCC. To learn more about the voting process at SPSCC, or for hours of operation, visit the Thurston County Auditor’s Office website or the South Puget Sound Community College website.  The public is encouraged to visit the SPSCC location early to avoid the lines on election day. Election staff is ready to help!

SPSCC Voting Center Hours for Primary Election

  • July 15 through July 31:  8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
  • Saturday, August 1:  10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • Monday, August 3:  8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
  • Election Day, Tuesday, August 4:  8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

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