In an effort to encourage Election Day turnout and reduce obstacles to residents exercising their right to vote on Nov. 8, a Milwaukee County committee approved a resolution Tuesday to offer free transport for passengers heading to polling places.
If passed by the County Board, the measure would pull an estimated one-time $63,000 from the county's contingency account to cover the cost of providing free bus rides and paratransit service to the public.
"Of all of our duties as Americans, the most sacred is our duty and right to vote," said Milwaukee County Board Supervisor Steven Shea, who is co-sponsoring the resolution.
Supervisor Patti Logsdon voted against the resolution, calling it fiscally irresponsible.
"They have this privilege already," she said, noting that if a rider is unable to pay for their fare, they would not be kicked off the bus.
"We are in dire straits here in Milwaukee County — we can't keep spending money," Logsdon said.
Supervisor Peter Burgelis, who authored the resolution, noted there is also a possibility of securing outside funding, stating that some nonprofit groups had voiced their interest in making offers.
A similar effort drew opposition in Louisiana, where free bus service was offered in 2018 in Lafayette City. Attorney General Jeff Landry said free election day bus rides were not legal and that state law prohibited the government from giving away something of value, according to a report from the Daily Advertiser.
Wisconsin state law states that it does "not prohibit any person from using his or her own vehicle to transport electors to or from the polls without charge."
Nationwide efforts to boost voter turnout
During the 2020 general election, Milwaukee County fell behind its peers in voter turnout with 83.7% of eligible registered voters heading to the polls, while Dane County, Ozaukee County and Washington County, reached 89.3%, 92.6% and 94.7%, respectively.
With similarly lagging turnout in areas across the country, there has been a surge in efforts nationwide to get voters to the polls in recent years.
During the 2020 general election, Green Bay Metro offered free transit to voters, including paratransit, to the city's 16 polling places.
Some of the country's largest transit systems also provided free rides on the 2020 election day, including: the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System, Dallas Area Rapid Transit, Utah Transit Authority, Austin's Capital Metro, the Charlotte Area Transit System, and the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority.
During the 2018 midterm elections, popular ride-share services, Uber and Lyft, offered discounted and free rides to the polls. They both slashed their prices two years later during the November 2020 general elections as well.
Multiple agencies and organizations in the Milwaukee area have previously provided free transportation during election seasons.
Wisconsin-based Souls to the Polls — a non-profit that has focused on increasing voter turnout in the state's Black communities — has routinely offered free transport through ride-shares from their homes to their local polling location on election days. In 2020, Ex-incarcerated People Organizing (EXPO), WISDOM and Milwaukee Inner-City Congregations Allied for Hope (MICAH) also provided free rides to the polls during the early voting period and on Election Day.
In March 2021, President Joe Biden signed an Executive Order directing each agency of the federal government to evaluate ways to encourage voter registration and turnout.
The Milwaukee County Board is set the meet on Sept. 22.https://www.jsonline.com/story/news/local/milwaukee/2022/09/06/milwaukee-county-considering-free-transit-polls-election-day/8001969001/