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Los Angeles is known as a city of cars, highways, and lots of traffic. But not everyone in the area owns a vehicle, and some parts of the region are hard to access using public transit or taxi service.
That’s why, for the June 5, 2018 election, the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s office explored a new program to help voters get to their polling places. Partnering with rideshare companies Uber and Lyft, the election office made it possible for carless voters to look up their polling place and immediately request a ride to get them on their way.
For Aaron Nevarez, who works as Division Manager for Governmental and Legislative Affairs in the RR/CC office, the rideshare partnership was about giving voters additional opportunities to vote, while using habits they already have in place.
“The rideshare apps are very popular in LA County,” explains Aaron. “So, this partnership made sense and helped us offer more convenient options for our voters.”
By any measure, Los Angeles County is massive. With a population topping 10 million people, it’s the most populous county in the nation. And its physical size -- over 4,700 square miles -- makes it more than half as big as the state of New Jersey.
With all that space, it’s not surprising that the county has areas without easy access to public transit or taxis. Election administrators had been aware of transportation challenges for voters for some time, and in the lead up to the June 2018 primary, they wondered if rideshare services could help to fill some of the transportation gaps.
“Our office is always looking for ways to improve the voting experience,” Aaron says. “The goal of looking into a rideshare program was to eliminate roadblocks that could possibly prevent voters from getting to their polling place on Election Day.”
Transportation definitely ranks as one of the most common barriers to voting -- and not just in Los Angeles County, but around the nation.
According to the 2016 Survey of the Performance of American Elections, for the 2016 General Election, about 30% of nonvoters cited transportation as either a major or minor factor that kept them from participating. That’s many millions of people nationwide.
Over the years, Uber and Lyft have shown an interest in using their technology to support voters. So, Aaron says that when his team members reached out to the rideshare companies, “Both of them were receptive to our ideas about providing transportation on Election Day and were excited to do their part in civic engagement.”
Making the connections
The basic plan for the partnership was simple. The election office wanted to take LA County’s existing polling place lookup tool and add a function for requesting a ride via Lyft or Uber.
As a first step, Aaron says, the election office’s public affairs team worked with the two companies to iron out the logistics of linking their apps to the polling place locator website. Then, once that logistical process was complete, the technical aspects of the integration could begin.
“After receiving the go-ahead from both companies, our office’s web developers accessed Lyft’s and Uber’s servers, allowing them to add Lyft’s and Uber’s apps to our Poll Locator,” recalls Aaron.
Finally, after a period of testing and review by both companies, the integration was ready to be rolled out for public use.
At the end of May, Dean Logan, Registrar of Voters, announced the rideshare partnership to the community. For the June 5 primary, voters could go to LA County’s polling place locator web page, enter their information, find their polling place, and then request a ride there using Uber or Lyft.
Picking up civic participation
LA County’s rideshare partnership attracted positive attention for its innovative approach. Several local media outlets reported on the program, helping to promote awareness throughout the county.
Ultimately, although the RR/CC office is still assessing data to determine the number of Lyft rides that originated from its website, Aaron reports that 210 people requested Uber rides from the polling place lookup tool during the June election -- a respectable showing for the area’s first rideshare partnership.
“We believe the partnership was a success for all parties,” Aaron says, adding that the county’s election administration will be pursuing additional partnership plans with Uber and Lyft in the future.
“Right now we are drawing up some ideas to propose to both companies,” Aaron says, “and we will work collaboratively to see what best suits the interests of the voters and stakeholders.”
Meanwhile, Lyft and Uber have recently stepped up their civic engagement efforts throughout the country. In fact, both companies will provide free or discounted services to voters with significant obstacles during the November 2018 election.
If you’re an election official thinking about forging a rideshare partnership in your area, Aaron encourages you to reach out to both companies, be clear about your needs and goals, and establish a relationship. That’s what worked for LA County, where the RR/CC office’s goal to overcome barriers to voting lined up nicely with Uber and Lyft’s ongoing interest in promoting the “social good.”
For Aaron, the partnership in June was a success -- but also just a first step. “We anticipate having a lasting relationship with both Lyft and Uber for all future elections,” he says.
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