by Deepak Puri

Technology coordinates rideshares to get voters to the polls

Apr 17, 2017
Consumer ElectronicsEnterprise ApplicationsGovernment

Technology helps people with disabilities, the elderly and the disenfranchised vote by arranging for rideshares to voting centers.

Getting to the polling station keeps many people from voting. It’s especially hard when you don’t own a car or are disabled. This is a big issue when just over one in two eligible American voters turn out.

How are rides arranged when many of the voters have neither an internet connection nor an email address? How is scalability ensured with peak demands at elections? How are the right vehicles assigned for elderly or disabled voters?

This article describes how a volunteer team prepared CarpoolVote using agile software development in three months.

Background The Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibits racial discrimination in voting. It was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. But ensuring broad participation in elections requires more than legislation. Voting can also be suppressed by reducing the number of polling booths and making them hard to reach.

“Could ridesharing mitigate voter suppression where marginalized communities have lost the full protection of the Voting Rights Act and find it hard to even get to a polling booth,” Sasjkia Otto thought. She surveyed groups helping the underserved in the democratic process including the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), Voting Rights Alliance and People Demanding Action to determine the system requirements.

System design The Carpool Vote platform was designed to get people to the polls on election day or during early voting, or to transport people to get a voter ID before election day. It matches voters who need a ride with volunteers drivers to help them. The system was designed for often marginalized voters: low-income voters without a car, the disabled and those in rural areas living far from a voting center without public transport. Users without internet access, unable to speak English nor use a keyboard were other design considerations. * Requests for rides to the polls are customized to voters’ needs: – People with disabilities can request vehicles with wheelchair access.  – Riders such as elderly people and women, concerned about their safety can request extra seating for their companions. – Citizens needing help in different languages are supported with Google Translate. * Notifications are delivered by phone and text message avoiding the need for an internet connection. * Customized versions of the platform are developed for partners. Churches serving rural communities of color in southern states use Souls2ThePolls, a modified version of CarpoolVote.

carpool vote

How it works Prospective drivers and riders can sign up by completing a form on with the device of their choice. An algorithm matches riders and voters based upon : * All available ride times and drive times (users can select multiple dates/times) * Rider collection point and destination, and driver starting point and radius * The number of seats needed and the number of seats available in the vehicle * The need for and availability of, a wheelchair-adapted vehicle

Once signed up, riders and drivers receive a confirmation notice via email and/or text message. Drivers receive notifications including ride requirements and special accommodation notes. They can then accept the rides that they are able to provide, which will assign the rider to them. Once they have accepted a ride, the rider receives a notification that there has been a match, and the driver receives the rider’s contact details. It’s then up to the driver to contact the rider to arrange the details of the ride. Drivers and riders are free to cancel the ride if it can’t work, for whatever reason; if this happens, the rider details are returned to the system and await another match confirmation from a driver.

Users are able to manage their rides through a self-service portal, or can dial into the phone line if they need an assistant to do it on their behalf. This is especially useful for people with disabilities including literacy, poor visibility or the dexterity needed to use a keyboard.

MyRideToVote is another service that helps voters who have smartphones get rides to polls in select races through discount coupons on either Uber or Lyft.

Participatory project management The project’s open-source structure used a collaborative environment for developers to add their experience to create a high-quality platform. This enabled all the volunteers to feel like they had a personal stake in the project’s success. Some of the best features of the platform were added during development.

The platform’s creation was a continual collaboration. A minimum viable product (MVP) went live in days, so people could start using the platform and provide feedback for  changes and improvements. This made it possible to test new features, demo to partners, and train outreach volunteers at the same time.

“Democracy is for everybody — not just the rich and powerful,” says Carpool Vote founder Sasjkia Otto. “Many of the voters who could benefit from greater visibility to policymakers will find it difficult to make it to the polls. Some have disabilities. Others live far away from a polling place and have no access to car. Many are unable to use smartphones or the internet. Carpool Vote wants to help make sure that no vote goes uncounted.”

Support CarpoolVote by donating here.