It’s great that both Uber and Lyft are offering free rides to people on election day so they can vote in the midterm elections. It really is.
My question is this: Why is our democracy dependent on the largesse of private companies?
So this year Uber and Lyft give free rides to polling places. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, doing so increases voter turnout by 20 percent. So instead of 100 people voting in the election, 120 do so. Great. The greater the number of voters, the better, especially in a year when voter suppression seems to be the primary goal of Republicans.
But what happens next time if those ride-hailing companies don’t continue the program? Will people who voted this year be so motivated they’ll make an extra effort to do so again? Or will they once more be subject to the realities they live in and be unable to head to the polls?
This is a public relations move by the two companies, which are under fairly constant criticism on a number of fronts, from how they siphon public transportation revenue from cities to how the low pay drivers isn’t nearly enough to live on, much less support a family with.
Of particular note is a 2016 report that found these two companies were falling well short of the claims each made regarding support for underserved communities and those with disabilities. That’s just one part of the problem within those same communities, who are most likely to need public transportation to get to work or other destinations and who can’t afford the ride-hailing services trying to replace those city-provided options.
Over the last few years we’ve found that private companies have little to no interest in the public good. Newspaper, magazines and websites presumably devoted to altruistic education of the citizenry have been decimated by private equity investors, as have retail brands that employed tens of thousands of people. We are all poorer for each loss, either financially or because we no longer have a valuable check against those who are accumulating power.
It’s bad enough that the current efforts to disenfranchise voters – especially voters of color – was enabled by the 2014 Supreme Court decision to strip the Voting Rights Act of much of its power.
It’s bad enough that the Senate just opted to not extend efforts to protect our voting system from the kind of hacking and manipulation everyone agrees is laughably easy after not doing much of anything to investigate the social media-lead disinformation campaign that preceded the 2016 election.
It’s bad enough that we adhere to a voting schedule that was designed for 19th century farmers and that Election Day isn’t a federal holiday where people could do whatever was necessary to vote free of concerns about their jobs.
Again, I commend the spirit behind what Uber and Lyft are doing. It’s just that any time we make yet another institution dependent on the whims of companies that are beholden not to the electorate but to the financial wellbeing of investors, we put ourselves at further risk.