Food & Drink

Pizza to the Polls Is Feeding Thousands of Hungry Voters with a Slice of Democracy

This year, the non-partisan non-profit has already sent out over 3,700 pizzas.

pizza to the polls
Photos by Pizza to the Polls; Image by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist

Democracy is a beautiful thing. So is pizza. When you put the two together, you might just get Pizza to the Polls, an organization started by Scott Duncombe, Noah Manger, and Katie Harlow that aims to feed hungry voters. To alleviate the pain of waiting in lines for upwards of eight hours, the non-partisan non-profit—which was founded in 2016—raises money to ship out pizzas to patient voters and poll workers across the country. In their first year, they raised over $40,000. In 2018, that number grew to almost half a million. This year, Pizza to the Polls is also partnering up with Uber Eats and sending out trucks across the country to serve up national favorites like Milk Bar, Shake Shack, Hattie B’s Hot Chicken, and more. They’ve already raised over $321,000 and delivered more than 3,700 pizzas.

I caught up with Duncombe to learn about how exactly Pizza to the Polls got started, why it’s important to practice your civic duties, and the powerful camaraderie that comes with sharing a pie—regardless of one’s political affiliation.

Thrillist: How did Pizza to the Polls get started? What was your lightbulb moment?
Scott Duncombe: In 2016, we were seeing a lot of early vote lines. It was the Saturday or Sunday before election day and I was talking to my friends (my two co-founders) Noah and Katie. We had done a political project in the primaries and I had a thousand bucks leftover, so we said, “What if we tried to send some pizza to the folks in these lines?” We weren’t sure if people would get the delivery right. There weren’t the same online delivery structures [as now]. We ordered something, I think it was in Cleveland—and it worked! The pizza place delivered it. They were a little confused, but it worked. 

That’s kind of the story of how Pizza to the Polls has gotten to where it is. We ended up raising $40,000 and sending a thousand pizzas in 2016. In 2018, it was even bigger. We sent around over a quarter of a million dollars altogether. It’s turned into this fun election day tradition and this year, we have stepped it up and launched a food truck program. It’s all pretty exciting. 

I know that you have new partnerships and have been expanding. How did you connect with others and reach out to collaborate?
Duncombe: We had worked mostly through online platforms. We sort of partnered informally with this pizza ordering platform called Slice. This year, we wanted to see what we could do differently, so we started this food truck program and partnered with UberEats and other folks like that and were able to get a bunch of sponsors and raise money from large donors and foundations to actually help run and scale this program.

Got it. So how does polls.pizza work, and how can people get involved?
Duncombe: Right now, if you go to polls.pizza, there is a link to a public social media post with a line. You can submit a request for a polling place. You look up the address, we validate it’s a real polling place, and all that good stuff. Coming [soon], you’ll actually be able to take a photo if you’re in line and self-nominate like, “Hey, I’m going to help and hand out pizza when the pizza delivery arrives.” We’ll pass over your information to the pizza delivery driver. That’s helpful, because if you’re at a polling place, the work flow right now is a bit awkward. So this will hopefully streamline it and then you can actually request pizza and be there to help hand it out. Of course, if you do want to contribute and buy folks pizza, you can always go to pizza.polls/donate and throw us a couple of bucks that we’ll spend towards pizza.

"I think it’s so important that we give people more opportunities to vote and more opportunities to have their voices heard."

What are the reactions of the people waiting in line who receive pizza?
Duncombe: People are really excited when they get pizza. It’s been cool to see the mood change in some cases. It’s something that I think is innately great because you can share it, pass it around. That inevitably brings people up off their devices. It gets you talking to your neighbors, talking to the poll workers, or the other people at the polling place. 

Do you think food is a unifying thing? 
Duncombe: Yeah, definitely! You’re literally breaking dough with your neighbor. It’s so helpful. I think the reason we were able to sort of find foundations and large dollar giving is people recognize that if you have a truck with music, with smiles, it’s much less likely that that’s going to turn into a volatile situation. There’s even social science research that shows that music helps diffuse that! Who wants to start some stuff if you’ve got Lady Gaga playing, right? 

How important do you think it is for people to exercise their right to vote?
Duncombe: I think it’s hugely important. My co-founders and myself are all Oregonians, so we all vote by mail. A lot of this started with us feeling like we wanted to help the folks who didn’t have the opportunity to vote. I think it’s so important that we give people more opportunities to vote and more opportunities to have their voices heard. It totally sucks that people have to sort of [be] like, “I’ll crawl over broken glass this year [to vote]!” It should never be like that. 

What are other ways people can get involved if they can’t vote or have already voted?
Duncombe: Power to the Polls is an initiative to recruit poll workers. I think in a lot of cases, they might be past the deadline, but folks can always still sign up and we’ll connect you to your local election administrator and you can get involved there. There are a lot of other opportunities to volunteer and be involved at polling places. There are great opportunities to be poll monitors with either local parties or other groups. Of course, all these people, poll workers and poll watchers, they can all order pizza for themselves too. It’s not an or—it’s an an. 

Come out for your civic duties, but also, there’s going to be food.
Duncombe: Yeah! And the food is for everyone at the polling place. If you’re a non-voter, that’s totally fine. It’s for you there and for everybody. There’s no delineation of, “Oh, you’re a voter, you get this or not.” People are so excited and fired up, and it’s great to be a part of that and even receiving a little slice of that energy. 

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Kat Thompson is a staff writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @katthompsonn
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