By Paulina Rojas
MECCA, Calif. — Many residents of the Eastern Coachella Valley want to vote but don’t have a way to get to the polls. Those without cars are often forced to walk more than a mile to the nearest bus stop or to pay $20 or more for a ride to their closest polling place.
For people in rural communities, lack of transportation can be one of the biggest roadblocks to voting.
Luckily, there’s an easy way for them to vote: casting a ballot by mail. When registering to vote, constituents can to request a vote-by-mail ballot.
“The vote by mail process can be more convenient for voters who are unable, or unwilling, to contend with going out of their way on Election Day,” said Luz Gallegos, community programs director at TODEC (Training Occupational Development Educating Communities) Legal Center. “Specifically in the Eastern Coachella Valley where [there is a] lack of infrastructure, with transportation being one of headlining issues, the vote-by-mail option is more convenient for residents.”
Juan Torres of Mecca is one of the residents who has opted for a mail-in ballot, although he still prefers to drop it off at his polling center.
“Although I have the vote-by-mail ballot, I still drop it off at a polling place because I would rather go in person, even if I have to pay someone to give me a ride,” he said in Spanish.
Gallegos said that in recent years, she has noticed more people like Torres opting for a vote-by-mail ballot.
“After people understand their options and the electoral process, more people are choosing to vote by mail,” she said.
But Gallegos said many residents still are unaware that voting by mail is an option.
Torres is 78 and does not have a car. He became a U.S. citizen a few years ago and didn’t know he could vote by mail. But now, he says, he is proud to be able to do it.
“I feel honored that I am able to vote in these elections,” he said. “I never thought I would be able to.”
The deadline to register to vote is October 24. If you are already registered to vote but would like to request a vote-by-mail ballot, you have until November 1 to do so.
For more information on registering to vote in Riverside County, visit www.voteinfo.net or call 951-486-7200.
This article appeared on the Coachella Unincorporated website on Oct. 12, 2016.