Voting And Homelessness

With less than one month until the midterm elections, citizens across the country are gearing up to use their voices and vote. By reading pamphlets or watching the news, people educate themselves on the election propositions and politicians on the ballot. But what does this process look like for those experiencing homelessness? How do they vote? 

In California, people who are homeless can register to vote as long as they meet the eligibility criteria required of all voters. To register, you must be: a citizen of the United States, a legal resident of the state; at least 18 years old on election day; not in prison, on probation or parole for a felony conviction; and not declared mentally incompetent by a court.  

It is important to note that you do not need a street address or an ID to vote.

Rather than supplying an address, voters can describe where they spend most of their time by including cross streets or routes. As for an ID, if you do not have a California ID or know the last four digits of your social security number, you can often leave that section blank. If it is your first time voting in a federal election, you may get prompted to provide an ID when voting in person. 

At the beginning of the year, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) created an election checklist and a voting checklist for homeless providers and those experiencing homelessness, respectively. These guides are a part of the Biden administration’s efforts to  encourage all Americans–regardless of housing status–to participate in our democracy.

Some estimate that less than 10% of people vote while experiencing homelessness, even though 60% of the population was eligible to vote as of 2008. For comparison, 67% of American voters cast a ballot in the 2020 election. With these guides, the USICH hopes to resolve this inequity.

In an age where misinformation and fake news can spread like wildfire, helping those without access to adequate voting resources is more critical than ever. Homeless providers play a crucial role by supporting individuals in their efforts to vote. 

So how do you vote without a permanent address?

According to the checklist created by the USICH, the first step is to contact your local election office and find what address you can use to register. Often, you can list a shelter, a park, or even a street corner as your address. 

Next, you will want to review the rules and deadlines for the state in which you are voting. If you are running into any problems or confusion, do not be afraid to ask your local shelter for help navigating the voting process. Then, you will want to register to vote or confirm your registration status. Picking a voting option will be the next step, as you can vote in person or by mail. You should then learn more about the issues and candidates on the ballot, and lastly, vote!

Listing it out here makes the process seem straight forward, but that is far from the truth. There are many reasons why individuals who are homeless do not vote, the main one being how many barriers they encounter. Whether it be transportation or identification issues or awareness of voting procedures, many people experiencing homelessness cannot find a way to vote or simply do not find the process worth it. While it is possible for people without a permanent address to register and vote, the voting procedure is long and exhausting, even more so when you are homeless. 

People experiencing homelessness deserve equality and inclusion in our democratic policy-making procedures, which start at the polls. Encouraging individuals to register and vote and supporting them through the process is just the first step. For voter turnout to increase among the homeless population, we must help to make the process smoother and accessible.


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