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Campaigns Use Anything With Wheels to Get Out the Vote November 4, 2008

Posted by Bahadir Sahin in English, Haber (News).
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With Election Day upon us, Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama have shifted their focus from tearing each other apart to getting out the vote. They want every one of their supporters to pull a lever, tap a touchscreen or punch a ballot, and they’re doing everything they can to get them to the polls.

Convincing people to vote is different than actually getting them to vote, and the campaigns — and their armies of supporters — know it. So they’re pulling out all the stops to get voters to the polls. “We have drivers and we have vans,” Obama volunteer Val Scarborough told Wired.com. “We’re doing everything in our power to get people out.”

None of the four McCain campaign offices we contacted responded to our requests for comment, but you can be sure McCain’s people are all over it, too.

Carless voters have almost no excuse for not getting to the polls. Shuttles are ferrying people from nursing homes and assisted-living facilities. Packs of helpful drivers are roaming the inner cities and rural plains, scooping up the transportation-challenged. Cities like Fort Pierce, Florida; Toledo, Ohio; and Austin, Texas, have their city buses providing free rides to the polls. Sioux City, Iowa, provides free rides to voters with “any kind of disability.” During the primary, Federal Glover, a county supervisor in California’s Contra Costa County, went so far as to offer rides to the polls in a stretch limo — two-passenger minimum, to cut the cars’ carbon footprint.

Voter shuttles are running nonstop at colleges and universities nationwide. It would be nice if these were nonpartisan efforts to promote civic responsibility, but let’s get real. Kent State’s Minivan Obama Mamas obviously have an agenda when loading up a Dodge Caravan with sophomores, and Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University isn’t canceling classes on Election Day so that the school’s 10,000 students pull the lever for Obama.

With so many ground workers transporting so many people to their polling place, it’s hard to imagine that this kind of thing used to be illegal. According to a New York Times article from 1912, giving a fellow American a ride to the polls violated the Corrupt Practices Act.

All of these shuttles and buses are great, but most of us drive to the polls, so let’s talk cars. A polling place with bad traffic flow and a crowded parking lot is enough to tick anyone off, but for disabled voters it can be an access issue. That’s why the Department of Justice provides municipal officials with a 32-page booklet to ensure they comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act. “It covers everything from space between parking spaces to the gradient of the parking lot to the width of curb cuts and the location of loading areas,” Ohio State professor Dan Tojaki, an expert in election law, told Wired.com. “From a legal standpoint, this is a very important issue.”

Also important for those of us driving to the polls is knowing exactly where the hell we’re going. Enter ESRI. The company’s “election solutions” use GIS to get voters to the polls. “The technology basically looks at spatial relationships,” ESRI’s Chris Thomas told Wired.com. “It marries the certified voter to the pre-assigned polling place.”

I went to the San Bernardino Registrar’s website to see if it actually works, pretending I lived at the Kentucky Fried Chicken on University Avenue. The site returned my closest polling place a second later, and while the map was a little sketchy, I knew exactly where I needed to go. Thomas says ESRI doesn’t track voter turnout in cities using the technology, but several mayors believe it has helped cut the confusion that can hamper turnout.

Taking the bus or a shuttle may be a smart idea. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found there are 24 more traffic fatalities on Election Day than on other Tuesdays in November. That may not sound like much, but it’s an 18 percent jump.

Turnout expected to break all records — some say as many as 80 percent of registered voters will cast a ballot today — and voters are going to great lengths to make their voices heard. But the most extreme example has to be the couple living in India who didn’t receive their absentee ballots, so they spent 22 hours flying to New York to cast their votes. “We decided it was important to stand up and be counted,” Susan Scott-Ker told The New York Times.

It’s crazy, but it’s awesome. And if they can do it, so can we. Whether you drive, bus, fly or walk, please make sure you hit the polls this year.

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