What is in the Attic in the Multnomah County Elections Office?

So yesterday, I spent the day hanging out in Multnomah County with Paul Gronke, watching people vote in a vote-by-mail election. And yes, as you will see when we put up photos, it is possible to observe a VBM election! However, the highlight of the trip was the tour of the County elections offices with John Kauffman.

Now I knew by reputation that John is a smart and progressive guy, but what lurks on the second floor of the elections offices was….well, amazing. First, however, I should note that VBM in Oregon means that the ballots are mailed to the voter. However, voters can and do return ballots at drop off locations, including at the county elections offices. Voters can also come to the elections office to request assistance or to vote provisionally. So while we were there, Paul and I saw dozens and dozens of voters dropping off ballots both inside the office in a ballot box on the front counter and outside the offices in the ballot drop box.

So near the end of the tour, John takes Paul and I upstairs. The second story will be the location of the county’s disability accessible voting system once the state procures a new accessible system. The space is specially designed for people with disabilities and is accessible via an elevator.

When we get up to the space, there are 10 people sitting at a table talking. Who are these people? Interpreters. Now Multnomah County is not a covered jurisdiction for language minorities under the Voting Rights Act. But there these people are, waiting if there is a need for an interpreter to help a voter with ballots in Spanish, Vietnamese, Russian, Sign Language, and Chinese. The county does not do this because they have to; instead, they do it because they think it is the right thing to do.

Los Angeles County does something similar through its Community Voter Outreach Committee. I wrote about this process as part of a report for The Century Foundation and the National Commission on Federal Election Reform. The interesting thing about LA is that the County leverages the interest groups so that they will help the County identify poll worker needs in both covered languages and those not covered by the Voting Rights Act. For example, when the Cambodian population started to grow in Long Beach, the county hired more bilingual poll workers who spoke both English and Khmer (and related dialects).

So what is in the Attic in Multnomah County? Help for those who need it.