This blog post was written by Sara Zimmerman and Marisa Jones.
As an organization dedicated to safe routes to all destinations, we believe in #SafeRoutestoVote. But what does Safe Routes to Vote mean? In a democracy, we need our government to foster our ability to vote -- and that means that access to voting must be advanced by our policies, our neighborhood and street design, and the actions of our elected officials.
Walking—and its more determined relative, marching—have long been connected with voting. Over one hundred years ago, women organized marches with thousands of demonstrators to demand the right to vote. In the 1960s, champions of civil rights faced violent attacks as they made the 54-mile walk across Alabama from Selma to Montgomery to claim equal access to the polls for African Americans. Walking and voting are powerful ways to bring about change, and people of all races, ethnicities, and abilities deserve unimpeded access to Safe Routes to Vote.
One aspect of Safe Routes to Vote is making sure that there are safe and convenient ways for people to get to their polling places, whether they have a private vehicle or not, and whether they travel by foot, bicycle, bus, or car. In many communities—urban, suburban, and rural—polling places are abundant and are regularly located a short walk from every home. In these places, the ability to find Safe Routes to Vote is a proxy for how walkable neighborhoods are—are there sidewalks? Are streets well lit and do they feel safe from crime and violence? In other communities, whole counties may be without a polling place. If people are required to own a private vehicle or spend hours walking or taking transit to get to their polling place, government is failing its core responsibility to support voting. The same is true when polling places are inaccessible for people with disabilities. Barriers to voting harm our ability to hear the voices of all of our community members and undermine democracy.
Safe Routes to Vote doesn’t just require convenient and accessible polling places. It also requires government policies that support and encourage voting. Voting by mail is a practical and affordable way to overcome the hurdle of providing every voter with an accessible polling place within walking distance. Other policies that enable people to easily access voting include: making election day a holiday; automatic voter registration when people turn 18 or obtain a drivers’ license; same-day voter registration; and early voting. Policies should also allow people who have served their criminal sentences to resume their full membership in our society by voting. In addition, governmental policies can ensure that voting machines allow paper audits and are secure and reliable, and can provide abundant poll workers so that voters are able to quickly and conveniently vote.
This election, we are seeing businesses, nonprofits, and government agencies step up to support Safe Routes to Vote, using a variety of creative approaches to improve safe active travel to polling places. Nonprofits like #VoteTogether increase voter turnout by making voting fun and celebratory, encouraging people to hold voting parties and walk together to their polling places. Bikeshare programs are offering free bikeshare rides on Election Day in cities across America—Philadelphia and Los Angeles, among others. Some ride-hailing services are offering free or discounted rides for voters. Public transportation agencies are offering free rides on Election Day in cities such as Dallas, Texas, Los Angeles, California, Owensboro, Kentucky, Portland, Maine, and Las Cruces, New Mexico. Even dial-a-ride transit agencies that make longer on-demand trips are offering free rides to voters in Northern Minnesota.
Safe Routes to Vote doesn’t stop when you get to your polling place. When you vote for candidates who support walking and biking, investing in healthy students and schools, embracing our communities’ diverse populations, and building a sustainable economy that lifts everyone, you support the future of Safe Routes to Vote.
Voting determines whether we have elected officials with integrity, who respect and advocate for everyone in our communities, who work to overcome our barriers to health and well being, and who fight for government by the people and for the people. There is no act more central to being a member of a democracy than voting. We need to make it to the ballot box to fight for Safe Routes to Vote.
Join us in encouraging communities and policymakers to support #SafeRoutestoVote by sharing a message on social media.
- Walking, voting rights, and why #SafeRoutestoVote matters: How communities can support our right to vote with convenient and accessible polling places and policies that encourage voting http://bit.ly/2PtTN11
- #SafeRoutestoVote in action: Here's how businesses, nonprofits, and government agencies are stepping up to support #SafeRoutestoVote across the United States this election cycle: bit.ly/2PtTN11