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Tarrant County rejects free rides to the polls program ahead of the Texas primaries

Tarrant County Judge Tim O’Hare, left, Commissioners Gary Fickes and Manny Ramirez listen during a Commissioners Court meeting on Aug. 1, 2023, in downtown Fort Worth.
Emily Wolf
Fort Worth Report
Tarrant County Judge Tim O’Hare, left, Commissioners Gary Fickes and Manny Ramirez listen during a Commissioners Court meeting on Aug. 1, 2023, in downtown Fort Worth.

Tarrant County will not offer free rides to the polls in this year's Texas primary elections.

A request to fund the program in partnership with Trinity Metro was rejected by commissioners during the Tarrant County Commissioners Court meeting on Wednesday. The vote was 3-2 along party lines, with the two Democrats on the court voting to fund the program.

County Judge Tim O'Hare spoke out against the program, which was offered during elections from 2019 through 2023. Although the program was not approved countywide in 2023, it was approved for Fort Worth voters.

"I don't believe it's the county government's responsibility to try to get more people out to the polls," he said. "It's the responsibility of candidates, it's the responsibility of political parties, it's the responsibility of political groups."

The program would have given free rides for Tarrant County residents to voting locations for the March 5 primary election, early voting for the May 28 runoff election and on runoff election day.

But O'Hare and Commissioner Manny Ramirez said the program benefited a small section of the county.

"Unless we can find a contract with transportation providers that will actually go to their locations and help them out, then I think that it's an unfair deal," Ramirez said. "If Trinity Metro wants to provide it to their existing customers, then they are free to do that."

Trinity Metro released a statement following the decision.

"Trinity Metro understands that the Tarrant County Commissioners have voted to not work together on Election Day transportation," the statement read. "We are disappointed to see the partnership come to an end."

In a statement, Ashley Harris, ACLU of Texas attorney, said Texas counties should do everything in their power to make voting accessible.

"This includes addressing financial barriers for voters who rely on public transportation," Harris said.

Commissioner Roy Brooks joined Commissioner Alisa Simmons in opposing the program's removal.

"We have a responsibility to make it easy for people to vote," Brooks said. "Period."

This is the first March primary since former county Elections Administrator Heider Garcia stepped down last year following a meeting with O'Hare.

In his resignation letter, Garcia said the meeting revealed differences in values between him and O'Hare.

Garcia was praised by former Secretary of State John Scott for being the "prototype for an election administrator," according to Votebeat, a nonpartisan news outlet that covers elections and voting.

His sudden resignation caused friction and heated conversation among other commissioners.

During the search for Garcia's replacement, O'Hare said he would not disqualify candidates who questioned the authenticity of the 2020 election results from the search.

The new Elections Administrator Clint Ludwig wasunanimously voted into the position last summer.

KERA News reporter Miranda Suarez contributed to this report.

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Megan Cardona is a daily news reporter for KERA News. She was born and raised in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and previously worked at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.