AUSTIN (KXAN) — In a year full of unprecedented firsts, one Austin babysitting agency decided to try something they’d never done before: offering free babysitting for voters in line at certain Travis County polling locations.
Beth Heyer, the owner of Babysitting Connection, explained that after someone brought up the idea to her of providing pop-up babysitting for voters, she got started on making the idea a reality two weeks ago. Her agency offers in-home babysitting services in the Austin area.
So far, her agency is scheduled to provide childcare during early voting on Saturday, October 24, and Sunday, October 25 from 9 a.m. until the polls close each day at Shops at Arbor Walk, which is a vote center in North Austin at 10515 North MoPac Expressway.
Babysitting Connection is also scheduled to have pop-up locations on election day at the Shops at Arbor Walk and St. Mark United Methodist Church (601 West Braker Lane). Heyer feels optimistic that her agency will have the details squared away for a pop-up location on election day at Huston-Tillotson University, as well.
These babysitters will be offering care at facilities at or next to polling sites and donated by polling locations.
Heyer explained that the pop-up locations will accept children of any age. No pre-registration is required, parents must only fill out a standard form upon arrival.
Children are allowed to wait in line and to enter Travis County vote centers with their parents.
However, Heyer believes that many parents may not want or be able to bring their children along with them. She noted that Austin Independent School District has now designated election day as a student holiday, which may present a childcare hurdle. Additionally, record-breaking turnout in Travis County at early voting so far has already left some people waiting in line for hours to vote.
“I know I’ve heard from people who’ve waited two hours,” Heyer said. “Whether it’s fifteen minutes or two hours, that’s not necessarily enjoyable with a 2-year-old.”
Heyer said these pop-up locations will take in children whether their parents are waiting for several minutes or several hours in the line to vote. Her goal is to let parents focus on what’s on the ballot.
“It’s so important to me that anybody who wants to vote has an opportunity to vote. I don’t want having to get childcare or the cost of childcare to be in the way of that.”Beth Heyer, Owner and Founder, Babysitter Connection
How the pop-ups will work
The pop-up babysitting locations will be staffed by babysitters from the Babysitting Connection, whom Heyer said have donated around 100 hours of their time to make this possible. Each of these employees has had a background check, a driving record check, CPR certification, a valid driver license, and is over the age of 18.
Babysitters will be supplied with thermometers to check temperatures and plenty of disinfecting supplies, Heyer said. At the pop-ups, children six and up will be required to wear face coverings, children ages three to five will be encouraged to wear face coverings, and children younger than two will not be required to wear them. The babysitters will have extra masks on hand for children.
To make the pop-ups possible, Heyer has been taking donations of snacks, personal protective equipment, activities, and toys through an Amazon Wishlist and through community sponsorships.
“It’s still a new businesses and it’s not something that I was able to completely fund on my own,” Heyer explained. “It’s just has been really great to see the community step up and help with this event.”
For those with further questions about Babysitting Connection’s policies and COVID-19 precautions, Heyer directs people to the company website.
She has never done an event like this before, so she has no idea what the demand will be at the drop off locations. But to avoid having two many people in one place, Heyer said there will be ratios in place to cap the number of kids that can be cared for at one time.
“Fingers crossed that parents come out and use this, I’m going to make sure I figure out all of the ratios that we need,” she said.
A high turnout election
Already, Austin and the state of Texas have seen high voter turnout in early voting for the November election.
Travis County has been shattering early voting records with 41,265 people showing up to vote early in person on Friday, Oct. 15, which is the highest single-day early voting turnout on record, according to the county clerk office.
According to the United States Elections Project out of the University of Florida, Texas is the state with the highest number of total ballots cast during early voting at 3,881,379 total ballots cast in early voting, so far. According to that dataset, Texas also leads the country in total votes cast so far as a percent of 2016 total turnout with 43.2%.
As of Oct. 17, The Texas Tribune reports 23.7% of registered voters in Texas’ ten largest counties had already cast their ballots.