April 11, 2022
Friends, supporters, and riders,
The height of the Election Season in Tulsa is approaching, and it is with a heavy heart that I announce it is unlikely our transportation services will continue into this exciting moment.
Serving voters in Tulsa with Tulsa Voter Van has been the most exciting part of my life. It's been an incredible experience to turn a simple idea--give rides to the polls--into a complex operation. For that, I show my sincerest appreciation.
Tulsa Voter Van would not be the organization it was without the people. We provided 191 trips in 2020! That's a lot of new opportunities for drivers and access for voters. Tulsa Voter Van turned into its own little study of why our fellow Tulsans couldn't make it to the polls. We've told these stories to friends, organizations, reporters, and ultimately to state legislators at the Capitol. Can you believe it!? Legislators wanted to hear from us!
I knew we were on to something with one of the first rides we provided in March 2020. This man, Mark*, had recently moved from South Tulsa closer to Midtown. Like many people, he forgot to update his voter registration until it was too late--only realizing it the day before the election. Mark also shared a car with his wife and didn't have a way to get from Midtown to the polling location near his old house in South Tulsa (a roughly 15-20 minute drive one way). He gave us a call, and to his surprise, we said, "of course, we'll take you there." Mark was able to vote that day, and we saved him at least $30 in transportation costs.
As we provided more and more rides, it became clear that we were becoming a vital and all-inclusive service to voters. Two people with similar stories also come to mind: Mary* and Sarah*. Mary is a trans woman, and Sarah identifies as a lesbian. Neither of them had cars to get them to their polling place, and they each expressed their discomfort taking rideshares. At Tulsa Voter Van, we worked hard to let people know that we would take any voter who called; in fact, we had our phone lines, bilingual drivers, and all of our material in Spanish and English. With four elections under our belt, we never turned anyone away. Mary had seen our advertisements in spaces she was comfortable in, and Sarah had seen interviews with me. Thanks to our visibility, both of them called us for rides, and they were able to vote. We weren't just providing rides; we were providing access.
Last story, I promise, and it's one I've told a lot. Rhonda* is a voter who rode with us almost every election--all but one! Rhonda is dedicated and truly believes in the power of the ballot box. In her own words, she had never missed an election and often followed by saying, "And I'm 72!" She frequently instilled this value in her son, who always rode with Rhonda. Her dedication was inspiring, especially because Rhonda was significantly mobility impaired but mustered the strength to go vote routinely. Transferring from her wheelchair to a car was incredibly painful, and we realized that something on our "want list" became a "must-have." Rhonda was elated when we rolled up in a wheelchair-accessible fan the first election we rented one. She remembered the driver too! The only election she didn't ride with us was the election that we helped her get set up for an absentee ballot. Thanks to you all, we raised enough money to cover the cost of those vans. Again, we didn't just give rides; we provided access.
As an aside, Rhonda was not the only Tulsa voter who rode with us frequently. Two riders rode with us during each election we served!
Transportation was our bread and butter service, but that didn't fulfill our mission to provide "last mile vote services." After someone has registered and learned about the candidates, then what? We took this to heart and rapidly scaled our outreach to the Tulsa Community to include notary services for absentee ballots and ballot translations. We worked with community partners to create the first Tulsa volunteer Notary Database!
By the time we ended 2020, Tulsa Voter Van was no longer a two-person operation (well, one lovingly doing all the work and the other driving the accessible van). Over 20 fellow Tulsans have gotten behind the wheel and slapped a Tulsa Voter Van decal on their car to help get people to the polls. Another 70+ raised their hand to say, "Yes! I will notarize ballots!" The excitement was palpable--both theirs and mine.
Not only that, we had such great support from partner organizations like 918 Vote and the League of Women Voters that we ended up on a billboard! The Tulsa Voter Van checkmark was enormous!
It's not entirely over for Tulsa Voter Van, at least not our mission; last mile support will always be needed. If we can secure the resources we need to keep going, then maybe I'll have spent 2 hours writing this goodbye to do no more but reminisce. If you know someone or an organization who would be interested in sponsoring, funding, or helping us get insurance, please don't hesitate to reach out. firstname.lastname@example.org
Absentee ballot assistance is also crucial to voters. If we can't drive people to the ballot box, we can roll up our sleeves and get the ballot to them. There are barriers to accessing the request form, barriers to technology, the barrier caused by the notary requirement, and even the barrier that sending back an absentee ballot costs over $1 in postage. We cannot let voters fall through the cracks. We wouldn't just be giving out stamps; we'd be providing access.
And as always, we will continue to dive into those organizations that continue to do the fantastic work to increase Tulsa voters' access to the polls.
We drove voters, and we drove lots of them! We sought to provide access not just to voters but also to the whole community. Frankly, I think we did a darn good job at it, too--but maybe I'm biased.
There's still plenty of gas in our tank to keep cruising down the last mile of voting. We just might have a different decal.
It's been a pleasure to ride with each and every one of you.