DemLabs blog

People lose their vote when it's hard for them to get to the polls. The elderly, disabled and low income voters in rural areas suffer the most. 

How can more voters be provided rides to the polls? How can organizers with little funding or staff coordinate rides to the polls? How can voters without computers or internet access request a ride with just a phone call?

Center for Common Ground is a Virginia non-profit that provides voter services to under-served communities. Its Get A Ride system uses free software to get more souls to the polls. The grassroots equivalent of Uber with volunteer drivers that's easy to operate!


System design

This system was designed by Andrea Miller and Melisse Leib with Center For Common Ground and experts from DemLabs with free software solutions. (Twilio charges a small fee).

Google Sheet - to store and organize information on drivers, riders, districts and polling locations.

Glide Apps - to create app to collect drivers' availability and where/when they could provide rides.

Remind - to send SMS alerts to drivers and voters with ride details.

Twilio - to collect requests for rides by phone and transcribe them into emails.

How rides are coordinated
Volunteer drivers enter where and when they can provide rides with a mobile app created with Glide Apps. These details are stored in a Google Sheet.

Voters can request rides by calling a phone line or by speaking to a local community organizer. A voice chatbot created with Twilio collects requests for rides, transcribes them and emails them to the ride coordinator. This lets even poor, remote, rural voters with just a landline phone to also request rides.

Coordinators match ride requests with volunteer drivers who are in the vicinity and available at that time. Volunteers are alerted by SMS of ride requests with Remind, a free app.

Ride coordinators get requests for rides and can see which volunteers are available in the areas for the requested time. The coordinator assigns the ride to a driver and sends an SMS to confirm that they will provide the ride. The alert is automatically translated into the drivers preferred language and can even include a photo of the passenger.

Driver get ride details and a photo of the passenger by text. Mobile app built with Glide Apps to coordinate volunteer drivers.

A multi-purpose solution
This system matches limited resources (drivers) with a need (rides to the polls). The same approach also meets other organizing needs:

  1. How can the closest volunteer lawyer be alerted to help voters getting harassed.
  2. Supporters have to be alerted at short notice to attend a rally in their community.
  3. Contact volunteers quickly to make calls at phone or text bank.

Take away

  • Understand the need, timeframe, budget and staffing available before designing a solution.
  • Don't re-invent the wheel. Use free, proven software.
  • Design systems to withstand hackers and peak loads.
  • Share what you've learnt with other like-minded groups so they can save time and money too.

Co-Founder, DemLabs

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DemLabs applies innovative technology and storytelling tools in service of democratic values. It lowers the barrier of funding for worthy candidates and non-profits by applying existing free/affordable solutions.