This November campaigns can ditch the volunteer-driven van and send their supporters to the polls in an Uber.
It's not the first foray into campaigns for the ride-sharing app. The company has run public pressure campaigns in New York City, Austin, Texas and more recently Hillsborough County, Florida.
And the company has already experimented with offering voters free rides to the polls on Election Day in cities in Texas and internationally. But the offer was a variation of its free-ride promotion for first-time riders.
"We put together VoterDrive.us and it's all about getting voters to the polls and making voting cool again," said Rich Masterson, co-founder of Audience Partners and CEO of VoterDrive.us, which launched last week.
Rather than just reselling Uber's services, Masterson said VoterDrive will be paired with Audience Partners data to allow for targeting the service. Moreover, its clients will know who’s using their free ride codes, whereas if a campaign just offered an Uber event code, it wouldn't know who was using it.
"It's a turnkey logistics program that we're offering," said Masterson. “We provide campaigns the kind of data and analytics that they’re used to, which wouldn’t be available through Uber directly.”
Still, Uber seems like a natural tool for campaigns. In fact, one Colorado congressional candidate has been driving an Uber and using it as a mobile meet-and-greet venue. But there’s a potential pitfall to VoterDrive’s bi-partisan service.
In many jurisdictions around the country it’s illegal to offer an incentive for citizens to vote. The free ride to the polls via a ride-sharing service could be considered an inducement. “We can provide our guidance and the legal review that we’ve done, but we can’t provide legal advice,” Masterson said. “We’re working in collaboration with campaigns.”
That collaboration needs at least four-five days before Nov. 8 to begin, he said.
Masterson said complication may have held Uber, which boasts former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe as a board member, back from offering services directly to campaigns. Audience Partners is also more familiar with campaigns’ reporting requirements, he said. “We’re helping both the campaigns and Uber navigate that election law landscape.”
The other possible pitfall is the potential for dirty tricks. For instance, a campaign signs up for the service and VoterDrive provides a reservation mechanism such as a landing page. If 100 voters register and 50 have not used Uber before, the campaign only pays for the half who already have the app plus the amount over $10 that the first-timers get charged (in theory just the ride home from the polls).
VoterDrive can also help organizations target, say, voters who haven’t voted in the previous election using Audience Partners data.
Meanwhile, VoterDrive charges $3 per ride redeemed. (The company also has a free option, which just covers those who haven’t used the app previously.)
The wrinkle can come in on Election Day. While VoterDrive turns over the data on the voter making the reservation beforehand, there’s the possibility that he or she could be a rival supporter just looking for a free ride to the polls, or attempting to drain resources from the opposition.
But even if the registrant is a Democrat and the campaign offering the free ride is Republican, Masterson cautioned against purging the reservation list.
“The voter makes no commitment about who they’re going to vote for,” Masterson said. “And there’s going to be ticket-splitters. I don’t know how you look into the heart of the voter and decide if they should get a free ride.”