Being homeless does not negate your right to vote. Here is some information on how to register to vote—and find your polling place—without a permanent address.
It may not be a presidential election year, but midterm elections are coming up on Tuesday, November 6. California voters will elect many high-ranking officials, such as a governor and a senator; Berkeley and Oakland residents will elect new city council members; and Oakland residents will also elect a new mayor. Plus, there are a number of State Propositions that will impact low-income people, such as Propositions 1, 2, and 10, and local ballot measures that will impact homeless people directly, such as Measures O and P in Berkeley, and Measures W and Y in Oakland.
But low-income Californians don’t always make it to the polls. As reported by Politico Magazine, exit data from the 2014 midterm elections showed that those making under $50,000 count for 48 percent of the population, but made up only 36 percent of voters, while those making over $100,000 made up 30 percent of voters, but only 22 percent of the population.
These missing votes from lower-income people leads to a gap between what the average person wants, and what is decided on Election Day. For instance, non-voters are more likely to support higher taxes and more government-funded services, according to a 2006 study from the Public Policy Institute of California.
Missing votes from lower-income people leads to a gap between what the average person wants, and what is decided on Election Day.
Since winning the right to vote in California in 1988, homeless citizens have faced roadblocks when it comes to actually getting out to the polls and voting. Many individuals who are experiencing homelessness may not know they are eligible to vote, or have access to information about measures and candidates, or understand how to register on time to cast their vote on Election Day.
According to Timothy Smith, Director of Re-entry Strategic Partnerships at the Building Opportunities for Self Sufficiency organization, homeless people often don’t vote because it is not a serious priority for them. Take Tank, a 25-year-old homeless Berkeley resident, who stated that while he has voted before, he’s not planning to vote in this election because he “couldn’t care less who wins or loses.”
However, according to The National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH), a network of advocates for the homeless, oftentimes homeless people do want to vote, but are simply discouraged from doing so. The NCH Materials on registering people to vote report that 70 percent of those registered by volunteers in welfare and food stamp offices actually do make it to the polls in presidential elections.
With many issues that affect homeless people on the midterm ballot, it is important to understand how to exercise your civic rights, even if you don’t have traditional housing. Here are some tips on how you can cast your vote even without a traditional address:
- The requirements for voting in the United States are that one is a U.S. citizen, at least 18 years of age, not currently in state or federal prison or on parole for the conviction of a felony (misdemeanors and being on probation are allowed), and not currently found mentally incompetent to vote by a court. If a person fits all of these requirements, they can take the first step to voting—registering to vote in their county.
- It is mandatory to register 15 days before an election, so October 22nd is the last day to register to vote for the general California election. You can register online, or use a paper voter registration application. Paper forms are often available at any government or city office, public library, Department of Motor Vehicles office, U.S. post office, or a city’s registrar of voters office.
- When recording your address on the voter registration sheet, you can put a shelter address, a description of a general location, the cross-streets where you spend the night, or even a drawn map. This address determines your polling place, so you are able to vote in a location that is close to you.
- While you do not need to have a home in order to vote, it is necessary to list a mailing address on your voter registration sheet. This can be a local shelter, church, or the residence of a friend or family member—any specific place that election information can be sent to you in the mail. It is also possible to register for vote-by-mail—that is, to request that your ballot be mailed to you. If you do this, your ballot will be sent to the mailing address that you listed. After filling it out, you can drop off the completed ballot at a local polling place on Election Day, or put it in the mail on or before Election Day.
- Unlike some other states, it is not necessary to have a photo ID to vote in California.
- While voting, you can ask to receive help reading or recording your vote from poll workers. It is also not necessary to vote on everything, you can just vote on the items you care about. Usual poll hours are from 7:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m.
Kate Wolffe is a reporter and weekend host at KQED.