As we inch closer toward the general election this November, it’s urgent that we focus on making it as easy as possible for the voices of people experiencing homelessness to be acknowledged through their vote. While the National Coalition for the Homeless has made great strides over the last two and a half decades in helping to secure the rights of individuals without secure housing to register and vote, there are still plenty of areas for improvement.
In February of this year California State Senator Carol Liu introduced SB 928, the Homeless Voter Registration Act, for consideration. Over the past two decades states as diverse as Illinois, Arizona, and West Virginia have adopted similar acts, which are based upon NCH’s own model legislation. The Homeless Voter Registration Act would amend California’s elections and motor vehicles codes in order to allow people experiencing homelessness to use their shelter address, post office, or the cross streets closest to where they reside when applying for a state ID.
This kind of change is more important than ever with new voter identification requirements popping up across the country, though the inability to get a government-issued photo ID can be a barrier to even registering to vote. However, it’s by no means the only barrier that people experiencing homelessness can face when trying to exercise their constitutional right to vote. Many people lack the documentation necessary to apply for photo ID’s, and retrieving it can be a difficult and relatively expensive process. Depending on the locations of polling places, the lack of transportation can also pose a serious problem.
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways that you can help. Contact your local service providers and churches to see which ones provide assistance in obtaining legal documents, and connect your homeless neighbors to those services. Start your own voter registration drive using materials available on our website’s “You Don’t Need a Home to Vote” campaign page. When voting starts, coordinate with shelters and other providers to help transport registered voters to their polling locations. Together we can make sure that everyone who wants to vote in 2016 has the opportunity to do so.