DENVER (CBS4) – In 2016, 14% of U.S. voters said transportation was a barrier to voting. On Tuesday night, board members of the Regional Transportation District voted 8-7 against a resolution meant to increase voter participation by offering free rides on Election Day.
“I was really hoping that we could provide this service to interested voters who don’t have the resources to vote. Our communities with disabilities, low-income communities, the elderly, immigrant refugee communities and our youth are less likely to vote. If they do, they vote in person,” said Shontel Lewis, the RTD board member who sponsored the resolution.
Lewis said board members who voted against free rides on Election Day shared concerns about timing and fear that the resolution might not be seen as nonpartisan. She said another opponent brought up the possibility that people may take advantage of the opportunity and ride free without any intention of voting.
Others cited the financial impact to RTD. Free rides on Election Day would cost the already budget-tight transit agency between $85,000 and $118,000.
“We offer free rides on New Year’s Eve,” Lewis pointed out. “I think this would’ve sent the message that we know who our riders are and we care about our riders. The folks who are utilizing our services, depend on our services.”
Julie Reiskin, executive director of the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition, says she would’ve lobbied for free rides if she thought the resolution was in jeopardy of failing. Reiskin says she assumed RTD board members would do “the right thing” and vote to increase access to polling places.
“Every single vote needs to count and as a society we need to do everything possible to make it as easy as possible for everyone, not just people with disabilities,” said Reiskin. “This is an issue that affects low- or no-income people and those are the people who are getting most disenfranchised. To think that someone couldn’t get to vote because they didn’t have 10 or 3 bucks hurts my heart.”
Reiskin says people with disabilities have voting barriers outside of physical challenges that require some to need assistance from technology. For some voters, mail-in ballots aren’t an option when there are roadblocks to filling out ballots at home.
“The biggest one is people who need assistance voting, but do not want to get assistance from a caregiver. Maybe it’s an adult with disabilities who lives with family and they want to vote the opposite side. They don’t want to get in an argument about it, but they need assistance,” said Reiskin.
A local roundtrip Access-A-Ride to the polls through RTD would cost a rider $10.
There’s less than two weeks until Election Day, leaving Reiskin little time to provide people in need of transportation a Plan B.
“What’s always happened in the past is volunteer groups would arrange rides to the polls, but I think people don’t feel safe doing that right now. Free rides aren’t something that is needed every year, but it’s needed this year,” said Reiskin.
Reiskin says if RTD fares are a barrier for someone with disabilities, she encourages them to call the CCDC so they can either provide the fare or some other assistance.
Additionally, Rideshare companies like Uber are offering half off car, bike and scooter rides to and from polling places.
Late Wednesday, Bob Broom, an RTD board member who voted against the free ride on Election Day plan, shared a comment with CBS4.
“We are getting ready to lay off hundreds of employees. Since most people have already voted, it’s hard to justify spending $100,000+ or – on this proposal. That’s 2 more jobs we would need to eliminate,” Broom said.