Virginia grassroots group arranges free rides to the polls using radio ads, chatbots and volunteer drivers.

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5 mins read

Why do those with the most to gain from change, face the most hurdles in voting? Living in remote rural areas, a lack of transport, cell coverage and internet access disenfranchises many voters.

How can needy voters be informed of an offer to get free rides to the polls? How can a small group process requests and schedule rides efficiently from dozens of volunteer drivers? How can all this be done quickly on a shoe-string budget? Innovation.

Background

Andrea Miller founded the Center for Common Ground, a Virginia-based as a non-profit that helps the under-represented get to vote. Their 2019 campaign uses:

  1. Radio advertising to tell potential voters how to get free rides to the polls
  2. Voice chatbots to collect and automatically transcribe requests for rides
  3. A free mobile app to schedule dispatch volunteer drivers to voter’s homes

1. Outreach by radio

Andrea teamed with Gary Flowers who earlier worked with Reverend Jesse Jackson in Chicago. He is the CEO of the Black Leadership Forum in D.C. and active in social and political reform. Gary commands the airwaves as a fierce advocate, activist and analyst weekday mornings 9:00 to 11:00 am (ET) on 101.3 FM or RejoiceRichmond.com. This is the message that Gary currently broadcasts informing listeners how they can get a free ride to the polls.

“On Tuesday, November 5th the entire Virginia General Assembly is up for re-election. Polls are open from 6am to 7pm. If you need a free ride to the polls call 804-424-XXXX and give the voice system your information. Don’t vote alone; take 5 people with you.”

2. Voice chatbot

People listening to the radio ad are directed to phone in and request a ride. The calls are fielded by a chatbot that collects details from the caller on when they would like the ride. The chatbot transcribes the call and sends the details as an email to a ride planner.

Chatbots are small automated programs that engage with people in a conversational manner. Andrea designed the chatbot with a little help from DemLabs. Chatbots work around the clock and are more efficient than having a person answer calls individually or transcribe messages from an answering machine. Twilio offers an affordable platform to quickly create voice and text bots. 

3. Coordinating volunteer drivers

Andrea Miller and Melissa Leib developed a mobile app to coordinate volunteer drivers using the free Glide platform. The app is easy to use and share with volunteers.

Volunteers enter the area where they can offer rides. This information is stored in a Google Sheet along with voters’ requests for rides. The ride planner assigns ride requests to drivers who get an alert on their phone with the passenger’s details. Once a ride is complete, the driver updates their status to indicate that they are available to offer an other ride. 

Voter suppression

“Voter suppression is one of the biggest dangers to American elections. During the 2018 midterms, millions of voters experienced suppression due to voter roll purges, poll closures, long lines of over 4 hours, missing absentee ballots, and strict voter ID laws that disproportionately prevented Brown and Black citizens from their constitutional right to vote. In Suppressed: The Fight to Vote, Brave New Films weaves together personal stories from voters across the state of Georgia to paint an undeniable picture of voter suppression.” – Center For Common Ground

Takeaway

We haven’t got the money, so we have to think“, said Ernest Rutherford a Nobel Laureate. The same goes for grassroots groups like Center For Common Ground, fighting to make sure every citizen gets to vote.

Tell DemLabs of other areas where frugal innovation is needed.

Deepak
Co-Founder, DemLabs

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Democracy Labs is a hub for ongoing technology and creative innovation that serves progressive campaigns and organizations at the national, state, and local levels.

Our focus is on long term, sustainable and affordable solutions. An approach that is longer than an election cycle, and isn’t purely dependant on volunteers, can enable more qualified candidates to run for office and for more issue groups to bring about positive social change.

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