The problems in Dane County appear sparse.
Union Cab driver Catherine Schachter doesn't remember which candidate she voted for the first time she could cast a ballot back in 1968, but she knows it wasn't a Democrat or Republican. Even as recently as a couple of weeks ago when she took an online survey intended to help determine who she should support on Election Day, the results pointed to Green party candidate Jill Stein. However, this year, Schachter has already cast her vote for Barack Obama.
She can't recall exactly when she decided to vote for one of the two major parties, Schachter can say why the change occurred. Sort of.
"Because I think my vote does count," she says, glancing over at me in the passenger seat of her cab. "I think-" the radio in her cab suddenly crackles to life, cutting her off with a barrage of intersection names and dispatches for drivers. She does not finish her thought, but after spending the morning crisscrossing Madison in directions as varied as the flight of the early November snow fluries outside the windshield, her passion for making an impact becomes clear.
Schachter takes mobilizing voters to a literal level. As we pull into the parking lot of Union Cab Cooperative headquarters on Pennsylvania Ave. around 6:45 am, she informs me this is normally her day off, but she wanted to work extra hours for the special occasion. Schachter is here to be a part of Democracy In Motion.
"The other drivers probably aren't looking forward to this as much," she mentions as she powers on her yellow Prius.
The Democracy In Motion program provides free taxi rides to the polls on election days, including non-Presidential years, for anyone within Union Cab's service area. This series has been an official policy of the company since 2011 according to business manager John McNamara, though Schachter adds they did the same thing unofficially in both 2004 and 2008. So now, before 7 a.m. until after 8 p.m. on Election Day, drivers intersperse these free rides, from the homes of voters to their polling place and back, among regular business.
Schachter takes these more businesslike calls in stride, but as she scans the ride monitor on her dashboard for her next destination, it is easy to see she has her fingers crossed for a call back to the voting front. Even if a rider is not on his or her way to vote, she hopes to convince them to make a pit stop.
A sign reading "VOTE Nov 6, your 2 cents" looks out at passersby from one of her rear windows, and she's not prepared to let anyone's lack of knowledge for where they should vote keep them from getting there.
"I set up Internet on my phone so I could help people look up where to go," she says, showing me the screen on her Android where she's pulled up the City of Madison Elections page. She can type in a rider's address and get them to where they need to go. But she won't direct them how to cast their ballot.
Schachter has no issues with sharing her left-leaning opinions on politics, though she takes great care not to judge others based on their opinions (On her Republican neighbors: "Well, they're nice people, just misguided."), but Schachter's goal for the day is not to influence anyone in either direction, she simply wants to give a voice to those who might otherwise have trouble getting to the polls.
Diane Miller, 63, calls for a ride from her home on the south side of Madison to her polling place at Dane County Head Start right as the snow begins to salt the sky and dissolve on its descent to the pavement. Without this free pickup, she does not think she would have had a chance to vote.
"[I] don't really know who would've given me a ride," she says.
Schachter seems quite happy to be that person for Miller and the six others she delivers to the polls before lunchtime. As each rider thanks her and waves goodbye, Schachter replies with utmost sincerity.
"Thank you for voting," she says with a smile, her honey-gold eyes crinkling at the corners.
As of 7 pm on Tuesday, Union Cab reports more than 424 rides to the polls, much higher than the 332 provided during the June 5 gubernatorial recall -- their former highest number -- and the phones are still ringing off the hook.