Volunteers provide rides to the polls

Citizens provide literal wheels in figurative vehicle of democracy.
Tuesday, November 2, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 2:48 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Sitting behind the wheel of a large, empty bus with five vacant green seats, Daryll Watkins’ wide-eyed reflection shines through a rearview mirror with a small American flag appropriately hung next to it. For Watkins, the drive is work as usual. But today, his destination could help decide the course of a nation.

“I can go to these places and I show up with my mind and body, and I’m pretty good at it,” said Watkins, transportation coordinator for Services for Independent Living. “But I like going to places that my mind, body and heart is into.”

Tuesday, organizations throughout Columbia helped homebound residents make it to the polls. For some, it was part of the partisan get-out-the-vote ground battle. For others, it was simply ensuring everyone had a voice in democracy.

Watkins said requests to his non-partisan agency, which assists adults with disabilities living on their own, were not what he anticipated.

“I was prepared to take a lot of people and really run ragged today,” he said. “It didn’t work out that way. But, in a way, I guess that would be good. It shows that there was a lot of accessibility between using absentee balloting and a lot of polling places.”

Watkins said voting today was important for the people he serves because funding for social programs directly affects the care they receive.

“There’s a lot of issues that affect them, especially if you look at this last year with the (Missouri) Department of Health budget getting slashed the way it was,” he said.

Cindy Eckstein was one of the people Watkins transported to Field Elementary for voting. She said getting to the polls was critical after four years of cuts to social services by the Bush administration.

“Everything that I depend on -- Medicaid, social security, medical care -- Bush has cut everything,” she said.

Nick Shapiro, a volunteer for the Boone County Democrats, scheduled an extended lunch break to get people to the polls. After 11 a.m. Tuesday, he had driven only two people to the polls. But he said this year, with so much at stake, every vote was needed.

“Every now and then you might get a case where you take two people at the same time,” Shapiro said. “But usually, it’s one person that doesn’t have a car or has some sort of an injury and can’t drive or isn’t close to public transport.”

In previous campaigns, Shapiro volunteered by stuffing envelopes and making phone calls.

“I think it’s probably a better return on your time to actually bring people to the polls,” he said.

Bill Clark served as a dispatcher for rides Tuesday at the Boone County Democratic Headquarters.

He arrived at headquarters at 6:30 in the morning and said he immediately opened the phone lines. By 7 a.m., he said his organization was swamped with at least 50 people requesting rides.

On the other end of the line, Clark said he had volunteers calling people to see if they needed transportation.

“We got plenty of drivers,” he said. “We got more drivers than we have need for, so I’ve been trying to give each one of them at least one ride so they feel like they helped elect somebody.”

Officials at the Boone County Republican Headquarters said Monday that they would not be providing any shuttles to the polls.

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