VoteRiders Florida Volunteers Ride Again!

After a year-long hiatus due to COVID-19, VoteRiders’ volunteers in Tampa Bay are revved up to resume helping people who need voter ID assistance in person again ahead of the midterm elections later this year!

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.”

Asked what’s been most surprising about her work with VoteRiders, Karen said it has been the challenges some people face in getting an ID. “It’s been eye-opening. On the positive side, the surprise has been how many people are interested in helping,” she said.

“Everyone at the DMV is so nice to us, and thanks us for what we’re doing. And they’re so happy to make this work for the people we bring in. When we have to get in touch with document-issuing offices in other states or places, they’re almost all really happy to help us. It makes you feel like you’re part of a community, on a local level, on a national level, of people who want to do right by others,” Karen said.

What Karen and other volunteers often find most gratifying about their work with VoteRiders is the look on a person’s face when they finally get their ID.

“Seeing how happy people are when they get their ID. But especially if it’s been a hard road,” Karen said.

“We had one voter a while back who didn’t have a birth certificate in her maiden name — and this happens with a lot of older people — it was an informal adoption, she was registered for school with her adoptive name, and went through (school), everything was that” name, Karen recalled. “And when she got married, that was the name she put down as her maiden name, and everything went that way, except her birth certificate.”

That’s when they had to start sleuthing. “We had to get school records, we had to find her mother’s marriage certificate. It was all incredible detective work, which was kind of fun. And we finally got all the documents we needed, and getting all of that together and getting her ID was this sense of triumph. It was really amazing. So those cases, the difficult ones, are ultimately, incredibly rewarding,” she said.

Want to join Karen, Joe and other VoteRiders volunteers making a difference for voting rights in Florida? Sign up here or email [email protected]. Sign up here to join the VoteRiders volunteer team in other states.