Before you enjoy the fruits of the voting process tomorrow—the in-line small talk invariably centered on how long/short said line is, the thrill of a quickly-but-cleanly-inscribed bubble, the sticker that makes an otherwise mundane Tuesday outfit really pop—before all that, one quick question: How will you get to the polls?
Driving? A classic choice—be a good neighbor/coworker and offer to carpool. If you can’t hitch a ride, and your polling place (which you can find here) isn’t within walking distance, you still have a few options from the private sector: Uber is offering a discount of up to $10 for a one-way ride to precincts on election day; Lyft has a similar promotion of 50 percent off rides to polling locations (up to $5). But neither of those will suffice for round-trip service free of charge, which brings us to the subject of this post: good old-fashioned public buses.
For the second straight year, GoDurham will be completely fare-free on Election Day and, in a decision announced just last week, so will GoRaleigh. While it’s not a perfect solution, free day-of public transit is increasingly becoming a tool to help lower the barriers to voting: Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston, Tampa, and Minnesota’s Twin Cities are among the major metro areas to implement this change; in North Carolina, Asheville, Burlington, and Greensboro have also taken the plunge.
So what will this look like for voters in the Triangle? Using Google Maps, I’ve compiled guides that show all the polling locations in both Durham County and Wake County, the nearest bus stop(s) for each polling place, and the bus lines that serve them. After clicking those links, you can search the top bar for your polling place and quickly see if public transit is an option for you.
A few points of emphasis:
- Polling places (houses) are either shaded blue (meaning they have a bus stop within 0.5 miles), purple (the closest bus stop is between 0.5 miles and 1 mile away), or black (no bus stops within 1 mile).
- For a more specific gauge of the distance from curbside to ballot-casting, you can use the ruler icon (under the search bar, the icon to the far right) to see the distance in feet/miles.
- Whenever possible, I’ve included fairly close stops on alternate bus lines to provide maximum travel flexibility for travelers. The polling location should list (next to “Buses That Stop Nearby”) all lines that drop off in the area; the description for each bus stop shows the lines that specifically stop there.
- While I could validate much of the GoDurham data using this PDF, I typically deferred to results from Google Maps and the TransLoc Rider app (which bus riders should download to coordinate their trips to the polls in real-time).
In Durham, the city’s buses serve the polling locations fairly well: forty-four of fifty-seven precincts (77 percent) have bus stops within a half mile, and in both 2016 and 2017, those precincts accounted for roughly 72 percent of Election Day voters. The hit rate drops steadily as one moves outside the city to the county’s more remote areas—two of the completely unserved locations are in Bahama, and another is technically over the border into Chapel Hill. And while it’s not super surprising given America’s urban/rural voting patterns, the Durham precincts that are closer to the city center and are thus transit-accessible tend to have more Democratic voters: In the 2016 general election, among voters at those forty-four polling places with a bus stop nearby, nearly 75 percent backed Hillary Clinton, while only 52 percent of voters at the county’s remaining precincts did.
The story in Wake County is a bit more complicated, largely due to the county’s sprawl and coincident drop in effective mass transit. In total, just 107 of Wake County’s 204 precincts are feasibly connected to the bus system; moreover, a decent portion of those are covered by GoCary or GoTriangle, neither of which appear to be offering free rides on Tuesday. The end result? Only about 37 percent of voters can take advantage of the free rides with GoRaleigh. It’s a good deal if your polling place is inside the beltline (twenty-nine of thirty-one precincts are well-covered, and the remaining two are less-than-fifteen-minute walks from a bus stop); outside, your proverbial mileage may vary.
Regardless, as more municipalities start to adopt this policy, and as Durham and Wake Counties maintain these policies for future elections and optimize their transit options, we can hopefully explore and answer more detailed questions: Does offering free rides actually affect turnout? How about if GoDurham tweaked the locations of its stops and, say, extended its 3B line two blocks further out Highway 98 so that passengers could get dropped off right at the door of the East Regional Library? Or what if the free rides also encompassed one day of early voting, so that all citizens could choose an early voting location that’s mere steps from a bus stop? After all, a free ride only provides convenience if it takes you where you want to go.
But first comes tomorrow’s election, and no matter the outcome, it seems a safe bet that the debates we’ll face Wednesday morning will far overshadow these marginal musings. With that in mind: Polls are open Tuesday from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m, and bus schedules for all area lines are available on the GoDurham website.