It’s Mia Van Meter and Norman Watanabe’s first stop of the day. The bipartisan voter assistants meet with a lively 90-year-old man at a local assisted living home.
Introductions are made.
The manager of the assisted living home explains Van Meter and Watanabe’s role helping voters cast their ballots.
“It’s a little difficult - my eyes now,” the man says while rotating the wheels of his wheelchair into a his medically-equipped room. “They’re here to help,” the manager replies.
“We are from the county to assist you on your voting,” Van Meter says.
The team explains that they can’t help the voter decide who to vote for, but they can help him cast his ballot by reading it out loud and dropping it off at the Elections Office.
“Why don’t we assist you on the president first,” says Watanabe. “We have four candidates for president.” He reads the names out loud and the process begins.
In the weeks leading up to an election, Multnomah County Elections brings on bipartisan, two-person voting assistance teams to help voters cast their ballot, without influencing who or what they vote for. The team responds to requests for help that come into the Elections Office.
“For our population, it’s a matter of the barriers,” says Van Meter.
“Our job is to remove the barriers. If they can’t see, we read it to them. If they can’t write, we fill it in for them .. We try to be invisible. We don’t want to have an impact on their vote at all.”
The team reads ballots out loud and physically marks them for voters who can’t do so themselves.
They help voters update their registration. They can even set up an electronic tablet which allows voters to access an alternative format ballot then view, enlarge or listen to a narrator program for those who prefer to independently and privately vote in their own surroundings.
They’re equipped with a portable printer to provide replacement ballots for those that are damaged or misplaced. And they go the extra mile, to pick up replacement envelopes from the Elections Office, so voters can sign them. They also deliver ballots to the Elections Office.
“A lot of people, because they can’t drive, they’re glad to see us so we can at least do something,” Watanabe says. “So that’s the biggest pleasure we get because they say ‘oh we’re so glad you’re here.’“
For people who are unable to sign their ballot, Watanabe and Van Meter carry an inkpad which allows a person to thumbprint an attestation form, which is then linked to the voter’s registration. The thumbprint, signature stamp or other mark paired with the attestation will serve as the voter’s signature so election workers will recognize it as a valid ballot for the voter.
The teams are trained on the essential skills of helping a voter cast their ballot, but they’re also trained to recognize the signs of someone who may be experiencing hardships outside of voting.
Van Meter recalled an encounter with a 90-year-old voter who requested assistance voting for a past election.
“She looked totally put together. Her home was put together but she mentioned her niece, who was helping her, left to go to Ohio and she looked bewildered. She didn’t know who was going to help her with her meals. We connected her to help through the County.”
Sharon Johnson, Multnomah County Voter Assistance Team coordinator works with community members with disabilities as well as disability rights organizations to ensure that individuals and care facilities are aware that voter assistance services are available in each election.
This election, with a record number of registered voters, is no different. Johnson anticipates they will help over 200 Multnomah County voters for this election.
The voter assistance teams are on call and more than willing to help. Some of the voters served by the teams are terminally ill hospice patients, who often feel a particular urgency in voting as a last legacy.
It’s very rewarding work,” says Van Meter. “Whether helping someone in the field or at the office. It’s rewarding work.”
You can get more information and view or listen to a video on accessible voting options.If you know of someone who would like more information about how to use the online voting tool or would like to schedule a visit from the Voter Assistance Team, please have them call the Elections Division at 503-988-3720 or email Sharon Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org.