Voting in any type of election, whether it be local or presidential, provides an important way to voice your opinions regarding elected officials and overall policies. The right to vote has proven difficult to achieve for all races and genders throughout our history. The ability to vote exists as one of the most cherished Constitutional Rights that many have fought, marched, and died for in our country. The right to vote allows us all to stand on a level playing field. Voting is no longer tied to status or societal class, wealth or lack thereof, education or literacy, homeownership or homelessness; we are all allowed our vote. Every citizen of the United States is presumed to have the right to vote; however, not having a permanent address interferes with exercising that right.
Individuals experiencing homelessness face several barriers when trying to register to vote. One of the major hurdles is establishing residency. In order to do this, you must provide a mailing address. In addition to showing proof of residency, individuals must now provide their state-issued identification number and/or the last four digits of their social security number on voter registration forms. Individuals experiencing homelessness do not have a steady residence and keeping documents such as a birth certificate is a challenging if not an insurmountable task. Many also cannot afford the fees to apply for an identification card. Residency requirement varies from state to state. Here in Florida, voter registrars claim they do not discriminate against the homeless voter -- as long as the homeless applicant intends to remain in a locale (e.g., a shelter) and has either a place where he/she can receive messages or an effective mailing address. This sounds good, but here in Miami-Dade County, one of the documents mentioned above is needed to register.
According to recent literature, only one-tenth of individuals experiencing homelessness actually exercise the right to vote, and over the years, this number has been fairly consistent. This is unfortunate because homeless voters can make a difference. Some advocates believe the real impact of the homeless vote lies in local elections because local legislation and policies about funding, housing, healthcare, transportation, and employment can often have a greater direct impact on individuals experiencing homelessness.
Take a moment to imagine a situation in which a supporter of homeless services loses an elective office by less than 13 votes. The current homeless census numbers in many metropolitan areas are at least several thousand. The 90 percent of individuals experiencing homelessness that were kept off the voting rolls by unfair application requirements could easily have changed the outcome of such a race. Preventing individuals experiencing homelessness from voting is not only a denial of their fundamental constitutional right, it also has the practical effect of placing future policymakers in office who show little interest in the needs of this vulnerable population of excluded voters. Just think about this whenever you think that someone is not worthy of participating in the voting process.
The homeless vote matters.