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Long lines at the polling place? This group sends pizza

Pizza to the Polls is back in the election waiting game, after pandemic-related hiatus

They tried burritos, but it just wasn’t the same. So it’s back to pizza for Pizza to the Polls.

The mission of the group is exactly what it sounds like — send pizza to polling places, specifically when lines get long and start to wind around the block.

“As reports of lines come in, we’ll have volunteers standing by to order pizza,” says Scott Duncombe, who plans to keep a close eye on wait times in New York and Kentucky as elections proceed there on Tuesday.

He won’t be the only one watching those primaries, which were postponed and then rescheduled amid coronavirus fears. But as the pandemic continues to reshape voting in America, his team may be alone in thinking “piping hot ’za” has an important role to play.

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Using donor money and the online portal Slice, they order pies from local restaurants. Delivery people then fulfill those orders as they usually would, except instead of dropping off the pizza on your doorstep, they drop it at the polling site, leaving it for anyone to eat.

Duncombe co-founded the group along with friends in 2016, right before the last presidential election. They wanted to ease the pain of waiting to vote, and give hope to people who might wonder, “Do I feed my kid, or do I take them to a polling place?”

Things were going well at first this primary season. The group spent $34,202 on 1,264 pizzas on Super Tuesday. That was March 3, a day that now feels like it belongs to a distant past.

Then the pandemic made itself felt around the country, bringing stay-at-home orders and stunning uncertainty to voters set to head to the polls.

“Right after we shut down, Wisconsin happened, which was really tough to watch and not be able to help,” says Duncombe, referring to the scenes that unfolded in early April, with lines snaking for hours as people inched closer to a limited selection of polling places staffed by workers in ski goggles and other protective gear. If the Badger State was supposed to prove that in-person voting could go off without a hitch in the throes of a pandemic, it didn’t.  

Duncombe and his group sat some contests out, but “when Georgia happened, we decided we had to get back in there,” he says of the election on June 9, which saw widespread confusion at the polls. “People were reaching out to us.” Burritos seemed like a logical choice, since they come as single servings. 

“It’s kind of hard to find places with individually packaged pizza,” Duncombe acknowledges. Still, the whole burrito thing didn’t work out. “We’re going back to pizza,” he says.

Serving food during a pandemic comes with challenges. “We’re working on some guidelines on safer food distribution,” the group tweeted last week. Chief among them: “Don’t gather around the [pizza emoji].”

And Duncombe says he’s even more careful now to leave a 30 percent tip. 

A software developer for the tech company Zapier, Duncombe once worked as a field organizer in New Hampshire for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. He’s since melded the two parts of his background — tech and politics — as he advocates for an easier voting experience. 

The group insists the pizza is not a Trojan horse. “So is this partisan?” goes their online FAQ section. “No,” goes the answer. “Ain’t nothing partisan about trying to make voting less of a drag.”

Pizza to the Polls, a 501(c)(4), has raised almost half a million dollars over its four-year lifespan. Now Duncombe and his colleagues are taking aim at another goal — making it easier to vote by mail. With their Democracy Delivered partnership, they want to work with “food and delivery partners” to embed a “tool in their check-out flow so more folks can get registered to vote and sign up to receive their absentee ballot request form in the mail,” according to the website.

Duncombe is from Oregon and has voted by mail his entire adult life. Eating pizza in a long line is OK, he says, but eating pizza at your kitchen table is better. “We really feel like, if you can get your pizza delivered, why not your ballot?”

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