This New Texas Service Offers Free Rides To And From The Polls To Help More People Vote | KERA News

This New Texas Service Offers Free Rides To And From The Polls To Help More People Vote

Nov 1, 2018

It's 9 a.m. on Halloween as Maryanne Walter opens her front door in Plano. She's about to leave for work and called Rideshare2Vote for her 22-year-old daughter, Kelley Reinlein.

"Kelley is a registered voter and this is not her first time to vote, so she should have no problem. This is her first time to vote independently, so rideshare is a very important part."

Like Reinlein, access to transportation is a major barrier for many when it comes to getting to the polls. Rideshare2Vote is a new service — think Uber or Lyft for in-person voting, but free — running in North Texas and around Houston and San Antonio during the early voting period and on Election Day.

Reinlein is used to calling for a ride. DART Paratransit gets her to the restaurant where she cleans tables. She’s on the autism spectrum and cannot drive. Voting’s really important to her.  

"Everyone has a right to their beliefs," Reinlein said. "On that piece of paper itself it says we have the right to say our opinion."

Reinlein, waiting at home, also holds privacy dear. She won't say how she'll vote.

"I like to keep it to myself, and I'm respectful and I keep politics in the house," she said. "I don't post anything political on the internet."

Kelley Reinlein, 22, checks her ID with her mother Maryanne Walter before heading to vote.
Credit Bill Zeeble / KERA News

Sarah Kovich, who founded Rideshare2Vote, says volunteer drivers won’t ask passengers how they'll vote. Kovich is a Democrat, but says just turning out is what counts.

"I think people need to vote. I happen to lean and think one way, but ultimately, if we don't vote, we can't have much of a say in our world around us," she said. "And I think having a say in our world around us is really, really important."

So does Kelley Reinlein. Volunteer rideshare driver Jane Ramberg pulls her SUV up to Reinlein's house. A bumper sticker reads, "Vote like your rights depend on it." Getting more people – especially young voters — to the polls, drives Ramberg.

"So few people are voting. In part, it's because they can't get to the polls," Ramberg said. "So I think our democracy’s going to work better if everybody has the opportunity to vote."

Ramberg is the mother of three adult children. Each has a driver's license, none has a car. It's that kind of story that led Kovich to spend $25,000 her own money to create Rideshare2Vote.

"Ours is a free roundtrip, which I think is really important," Kovich said. "What we are finding and hearing about in the under 30, millennial group: They will use Uber and Lyft. I don't know that they'll connect Uber and Lyft with a vote. And I don't know if they want to pay for their ride back from voting."

When Jane Ramberg heard about Rideshare2Vote she signed on as a volunteer driver because it aligned with her beliefs and goals.
Credit Bill Zeeble / KERA News

Uber and Lyft are expanding efforts begun two years ago. They'll offer discounted or free rides to the polls, but the offer’s only on Election Day, and you pay for the ride back. Rideshare2Vote is free both ways and started when early voting began last week.

Ramberg arrives at Plano's Haggard Library. Reinlein climbs out and heads for the polls. Kovich says she came up with this idea to remove obstacles for people like Reinlein. She's seen voter suppression among the poor and people of color. She also has two personal reasons.

"My daughters are both born in Guatemala," Kovich said, "and so it's important for me to reach out to that group. The other reason is that my 17-year-old, who is very annoyed that she cannot vote in this election, asked me if there was something that I couldn't do with my skillset to help get voters to the polls this go-round."

Sarah Kovich founded Rideshare2Vote. She hopes the app will increase turnout among young people, people of color and those who feel disenfranchised by the current system.
Credit Bill Zeeble / KERA News

Kovich's skills tended toward tech, and Rideshare2Vote emerged.

Outside the library, Reinlein emerges, successful. She gets in and Ramberg starts the two-mile drive back home.

Rideshare2Vote's founder Kovich says offering free rides to polls has been around forever. But free ride-sharing through her app or a phone call is new.

"I can certainly go out and raise money if I wanted to, I can go canvas, I can do phone banks. I've done all of these things. But ultimately to me, if we didn't provide a final mile ride to vote, all the rest of the work that we do goes for naught."

Kovich hopes this is just the start. Her dream: offering rides across Texas by 2020.