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You Don't Need a Home to Vote!
2010 Voter Rights/Registration Packet

Legal Issues and Rights

Legal and Practical Barriers to Voting for Homeless People

While state and federal laws have eliminated some of the barriers to voting for homeless people, other obstacles remain.  Those obstacles can be overcome if people experiencing homelessness know their rights and learn ways to overcome the barriers.

Residency and Mailing Address Requirements

Some states had previously required registrants to live in a “traditional dwelling” in order to register to vote.  Judicial decisions in court cases and the enactment of state and federal laws have eliminated that requirement.  Today, homeless individuals in all states--including those people who are living on the streets--have the right to register and vote.  When registering to vote, homeless voters only need to designate their place of residence, which can be a street corner, a park, a shelter, or any other location where an individual stays at night.  Designation of a residential address or location of residence is required to ensure the voter lives within the district in which she/he wishes to register and to assign the voter to the appropriate polling location.  Usually, the location of a residence may be indicated by drawing a map or by providing a general descriptive location, if not the address of a shelter.

In addition, most states require registrants to provide a mailing address so that voter ID cards and other election materials may be sent to registered voters.  Having registrants’ mailing addresses also helps county elections offices maintain current and accurate voter registration lists.  The address provided may be that of a local advocacy organization, shelter, outreach center, or anywhere else willing to accept mail on behalf of a person registering to vote.  Some states, like Arizona or Nebraska, allow homeless people to use county courthouses or county clerks’ offices as their mailing address.  Some states will not allow registrants to use a P.O. Box as a mailing address.  A registrant’s mailing address does not have to be the person’s residential address. 

Although the requirement to live in a traditional dwelling has been eliminated, many states still maintain durational residency requirements for voter registration. This makes voter registration for homeless people very difficult as they are often subject to circumstances requiring them to frequently re-locate against their wishes. The table on page 48 outlines the state-by-state durational residency requirements as well as the registration deadlines.

Identification Issues


Pursuant to federal law, namely the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), first-time registrants in all states who register by mail must provide a driver’s license number or the last four digits of their Social Security number on their voter registration form.  If a registrant has neither a current driver’s license number nor Social Security Number, then the registrant will be assigned a voter ID number once her or his registration is approved.  In addition, first-time mail-in registrants must provide an identification document at the polls, unless a registrant submits either his or her driver’s license number or the last four digits of his or her Social Security Number when registering and the accuracy of the information has been verified by election officials.  Acceptable identification for first-time mail-in registrants includes a current and valid photo identification, or a copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other government document that shows the name and address of the voter.  Since first-time mail-in registrants may have to provide some sort of identifying documentation at the polls, homeless registrants without any of the documents listed above may want to register to vote in person at their local registration office.
Some states have stricter identification requirements than HAVA, such as requiring all voters to present a photo ID to register or to vote.  However, identification requirements vary from state to state.  The table on page 46 provides an outline of the main state-by-state identification requirements. Please check with your county elections office or the Secretary of State’s office for your state to find out more about your state’s identification requirements. Even if voters do not have the necessary identification at the polls, HAVA requires states to provide provisional ballots to those voters.  Election officials will count the provisional ballot later, if the voter meets voter eligibility and other requirements for that district or state.  


Download full report as pdf | Acknowledgements | Introduction | Overcoming Agency Resistance | Frequently Asked Questions by Organizations about Conducting Voter Registration | Incorporating Voter Registration into the Intake Process | Conducting a Successful Voter Registration Drive | Overcoming Resistance by Individuals | Frequently Asked Questions by Individuals | Conducting a Voter Registration Party | Registering Tenants to Vote | Having Candidates Volunteer at Your Agency | Holding a Candidate Forum on Housing and Homelessness | Media Tips for Hosting Events | Letter Writing Power Hour | Leading Up to Election Day | On Election Day | Voting & Registration Information Flyer | Legal Issues and Practical Barriers to Voting for Homeless People | State-by-State Chart of Homeless People’s Voting Rights | State-by-State Chart of Disenfranchisement Categories | State-by-State Chart of ID Requirements | State-by-State Chart of Registration Deadlines & Residency Requirements | Court Decisions on Homeless People’s Voting Rights | Sample Phone Script | Sample Invitation Letter | Sample Media Advisory | Sample Press Release


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