On Primary Day in September, I met my friend Jane for lunch at our favorite place for burgers. She was proudly wearing an “I Voted” sticker, so we eagerly shared our thoughts and ideas about the candidates. Then Jane mentioned that upon returning from voting, she ran into a neighbor in her building and the sticker prompted a conversation with her about voting. This neighbor happens to be an older adult who uses a walker. As the two commiserated about how their voting place keeps getting moved farther away, Jane’s neighbor mentioned she wasn’t going to vote because she was unable to procure transportation.
“I guess I should have planned better,” the neighbor said, blaming herself for the city’s failing.
Being the kind person that Jane is, she hailed a cab for her soon-to-be fellow voter and together, they sped off to their polling place. This could be a simple heartwarming story of neighbors watching out for each other, but it’s much more.
Transportation: A Barrier for Older Voters
In the 2016 presidential election, 71 percent of Americans over the age of 65 voted. At first glance this is a promising statistic, especially when compared to voters age 18 to 20 who had only a 46 percent voter turnout. But the 29 percent of older adults who did not vote account for approximately 2,262,000 voters.
As the baby boom generation continues to grow, so will that number, highlighting the importance of understanding the barriers to voting that older adults face. (And recently in Georgia, a group of older black voters were denied access to early voting.)
A potent barrier, as experienced by Jane’s neighbor and many others, is lack of transportation. One study found that, as of 2015, an estimated 54 percent of older adults living in metropolitan areas had poor access to transit. Another study of more than 3.5 million non-driving people over 65 found that more than half reported they stay at home on any given day because they do not have access to transportation. Older residents of car-dependent rural communities often face worse access to transportation.
We can easily assume that the lack of access to transportation leaves many older adults unable to vote — a basic right granted to all U.S. citizens.
Ride Share Options for Election Day
Uber and Lyft are stepping up to fill the need. Uber will offer free transportation for those heading to the polls for the midterm elections on November 6th. Lyft is offering half-price and free rides to the polling stations. The free rides will be accessible to residents in underserved communities.
But for some older adults, setting up a ride share account is the barrier to using Lyft or Uber. (I helped an 85-year-old neighbor set up her Uber app and she’s using the ride service with ease.)
The challenge is that only 42 percent of Americans over 65 own a smart phone allowing them to use the ride share service apps.
There are several other transportation providers catering to older adults that could be useful on voting day, and some are not dependent on having an app on a smart phone. The following list of some is not exhaustive; individual communities may have local options:
Arrive arranges Lyft or Uber transportation for older adults who call in their request. This serves older adults who do not have a smart phone or who have difficulty using the app.
GoGoGrandparent is an affordable ride service that can be used via telephone or app. GoGoGrandparent monitors and customizes on-demand services such as Uber and Lyft for older adults and their families. The service texts families or caregivers when the door-to-door transportation is complete.
GreatCall uses an operator to order Lyft rides for older adults. Drivers are notified when they are picking up an older passenger and about whether they need special assistance.
Silver Ride drivers spend time with their clients and families to plan outings. Drivers will assist their passenger in getting from the home to the car, and when they arrive at their destination, the drivers walk the client inside. Silver Ride is available in San Francisco only.
RideWith24 can be hailed with a phone call. It’s operational in Southern California, Walnut Creek, Calif., and Scottsdale, Ariz.
The National Volunteer Transportation Center provides resources to approximately 1,000 volunteer driver programs nationwide. The rides are free. A Google search of Volunteer Transportation Centers will help you find a volunteer transportation hub in your community if one exists.
Casting Their Ballots
Other ways to help older friends, families, and neighbors get to the polls include carpooling and assisting them with an absentee ballot. Absentee ballots must be either personally delivered to the appropriate county board of elections no later than the day before the election, or postmarked by a governmental postal service no later than one week before election day.
The boomer generation has lived through years of rich American history and its voices should be heard and honored by an ability to vote. So next month, reach out to your older friends, family members and neighbors and lend a hand to help them cast their ballot.
Next Avenue Editors Also Recommend:
- Why Too Many Older Adults Face Voting Obstacles
- What Older Voters Want in the Midterm Elections
- Service Makes Uber and Lyft More Accessible for Older Adults
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