Karen Sherman and Joe Guido are longtime volunteers with VoteRiders in St. Petersburg, Florida. In partnership with local service provider organizations, they focus on helping people in Pinellas County get their ID to vote. “After a long break and conducting work virtually, we’re looking forward to returning to helping voters in person once again on a regular schedule,” said Karen.
Karen got involved with VoteRiders two years ago. “When it first clicked for me that someone could be turned away from the polls because they didn’t have ID, I just thought, that’s ridiculous,” Karen recalled. “Then I thought, how hard can it be to get an ID?”
Karen found out when she moved to Florida. “Then I found out how hard it is to provide all this documentation to get a Florida ID. And I realized, if I’m having trouble – and I know I have a passport and I know where my birth certificate is – how hard must this be for someone with way more on their plate?”
Beyond the technical issues of getting an ID, Karen also realized the injustice of the problem. “The very people who need their voices heard the most are the people who find it hardest to replace an ID if it’s lost or stolen, or if they’ve moved from out of state. Those are the people that need our help so they can make their voices heard at the polls. And that keeps motivating me.”
Karen explained that there are several steps in helping someone get an ID to vote.
“We meet voters and get referrals — figure out what they might need. Once we get them paperwork, one of our volunteers meets them at the DMV. We’re doing this twice a week on a regular schedule.”
No car to get to the DMV? No problem. “We arrange their transportation. We shepherd them through the process,” she said. “People know there’s someone there to advocate for them if there’s a problem.”
Karen and Joe also recruit and train volunteers to help people who need an ID. There are roles for volunteers to work in-person at the DMV as well as to help people by telephone.
“The very first time you go to the DMV with a voter, you’ll be shadowing one of us who has experience,” Karen explained. “But the first time you do it, you’ll realize how much of an impact you can have on someone’s life in the shortest amount of time. So little of your time and energy needs to go into this at the tax collector’s office, and you’ll see the results, right there. It’s just so rewarding, so rewarding.”
“For volunteers not quite ready to meet people in-person yet, they can help people get ready,” Karen said. This involves talking on the phone to the person who needs an ID to figure out what documentation they have and what they may need help getting. “Do they need a birth certificate? We’re always looking for someone to triage phone calls.”