- Tommy Yap
Updated: Mar 23, 2021
Tulsa Voter Van began in March and finished its inaugural election year in November. Over that time, the organization grew from the two founders providing rides in rented minivans to an operation with 23 volunteers, hired contractors, and a rented wheelchair accessible vehicle. Our success is credited to our amazing volunteers and donors who provided support throughout our growth.
During 2020, we provided rides for three elections: March, August, and November. We were not comfortable providing rides in June because of COVID-19's unknowability. We took this opportunity to launch our absentee ballot and notary support and continued our mission of serving voters on the last mile.
We have provided 164 trips in total for 2020; 104 of those trips were during the November election. In August, we expanded and began providing services during early voting. Through a partnership with the League of Women Voter of Tulsa, we provided 36 trips during November's early voting and 66 on Election Day. Additionally, through our outreach and connection with Tulsa organizations, we helped one voter drop her absentee ballot off at the Election Board.
November was the first election we were wheelchair accessible. Mobility impaired voters in past elections had contacted us in need of rides. At the time, we were unable to accommodate them adequately. With our mission in mind, we set out to raise funds for a wheelchair accessible vehicle. We met that goal and added the van to our network. We provided rides for eight people who used wheelchairs and drove that van all over Tulsa--165 miles in one day.
We have consistently innovated our services. When the ID copy option for absentee ballots was released, we acted quickly and launched a text message copying service. Voters were able to text us a photo of their ID and receive a copy within a week. Later, we released digital versions of the notary ballot limitation waivers. Notaries could fill out the forms, sign, and send the documents from their computer. We tracked line wait times during November's early voting to coordinate when cars could be dispatched and posted our times on Facebook for others to access.
We recognized from the beginning that language could be a barrier to some. Portions of our materials have been translated into Spanish since our launch in March. In November, we are proud to say that our services were fully translated, including our rider hotline.
We hosted our first event this year on Halloween. Along with Councilor McKee, we brought the Halloween spirit to the early voting line at ONEOK Field by dressing up and "Tick or Treat"-ing.
We were met with resounding support from the community in our inaugural year. Combined, 23 volunteers helped us, including our drivers, translators, and programmers. We raised $1155 for the November election from 16 donors and a generous contribution from the Coretz foundation. That money went towards accessibility, outreach, and COVID-19 cleaning supplies.
Tulsa Voter Van reached across Tulsa, being featured on news, radio, and resource directories like 311 and the Library. These were invaluable as many riders identified one of these resources as to how they heard about us.
The 2020 election season may be over, but we are looking forward. We are already beginning to draw up new ways to reach voters and give them a ride on their last mile of voting.