En español | Finding a ride to the polls can be tricky for older voters during normal times. Add in a pandemic during which people are supposed to be socially distancing and that disproportionately affects people age 65 and over, and some Americans may worry about how they're going to do what they've done for decades: cast a ballot in person.
Dozens of states have relaxed voting regulations in the wake of COVID-19 — more widely distributing mail-in ballots, extending windows for early voting and establishing ballot drop boxes. But 54 percent of registered voters say they plan to vote in person during early voting or on Tuesday, Nov. 3, according to a survey by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.
"Our seniors are underserved and overlooked when it comes to transportation,” says Raul Camacho, founder and CEO of Silver Lift, a Texas-based ride-hailing company similar to Uber and Lyft that caters primarily to seniors and the visually impaired.
Camacho's Silver Lift is one of several companies and organizations around the country that are offering free or discounted rides to older voters planning to cast a ballot in person this year. Consider some of these options if you're planning to head to the polls either during early voting or on Election Day, Nov. 3.
Ride companies stepping up to help
Camacho's Silver Lift has more than 50 volunteers giving free rides to older voters in and around Austin, Texas. Those in the area can submit a ride request on the company's website or by calling 512-893-4000. Drivers will pick riders up at their homes, take them to the polls and wait for them while they vote.
"It doesn't matter if they're left or right [politically]. You just want to make sure they're given the opportunity to vote and have their voice heard,” Camacho says.
National ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft are offering discount codes on their apps on Election Day for riders heading to polling places. Some voter advocacy organizations across the country are offering to cover ride-hailing costs. Milwaukee's Souls to the Polls, a faith-based group working to increase voter turnout in black communities, has offered to pay for Uber and Lyft rides for voters in the area who reach out to them.
Uber, Lyft and companies like Silver Lift are requiring drivers and passengers to wear face masks. Camacho says his drivers must sanitize their vehicles between trips and are taking only one rider at a time.
Community advocates organizing rides
The pandemic is not stopping religious groups, not-for-profit organizations and advocates across the country from providing rides for voters themselves. Several branches of the NAACP are organizing transportation options for voters.
Free limo rides will be available to older voters in Baltimore, Detroit, Kansas City, Missouri, Los Angeles and Miami, thanks to a partnership between the National Funeral Directors & Morticians Association and the National Urban League.
In addition, the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America, the country's largest homeownership advocacy group, is coordinating more than 150 vans that are driving voters to the polls in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas. They've already helped about 25,000 people cast their ballots in person during early voting and are hoping to drive 100,000 voters during this election, says Bruce Marks, the organization's CEO.
"It's particularly important in Georgia and other places in this country where people have fought and died for the right to vote,” Marks says. “Some people don't want to do absentee ballots. They want to personally go to the voting booth.”
Local party campaigns
Some local Democratic and Republican chapters and campaign offices are also driving voters to support their parties’ candidates, something that's been a mainstay of elections for many years.
Sarah Kovich, founder of the Texas-based Rideshare2Vote organization, which works with Democratic campaigns to drive voters to polling locations, says the logistics involved with transporting voters can be challenging for campaigns and chapters. Her organization is helping voters and campaigns despite the COVID-19 outbreak, mainly in Texas but also in North Carolina and West Virginia.
"The drivers haven't even flinched,” says Kovich, who is heartened by the number of volunteers who've agreed to welcome strangers into their cars during the pandemic.
Los Angeles is one of several cities large and small offering free public transportation on Election Day. But free rides to the polls aren't limited to cities. Many bus systems in more rural parts of the country are offering free or discounted rides Tuesday.
For example, the Capital Area Rural Transportation System (CARTS), which serves the 7,200-square-mile area surrounding Austin, is offering free curb-to-curb bus rides to voters on Election Day and during the state's early voting window. Dana Platt, the CARTS community outreach director, says that the buses are being sanitized regularly and that riders are required to socially distance and wear a mask.
"We're disinfecting and sanitizing as much as possible,” she says.