This past year, over three million Americans found themselves huddling in doorways or sitting on park benches, while nights were spent in terrifying shelters or under bridges or in taped-together cardboard boxes. Add to this mix hundreds of thousands of foreclosed-upon homeowners, hurricane-ravaged families and vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan only to join the ranks as newly homeless.
And the Republican response to these millions of frightened and homeless people? Make certain they can't vote. After all, a good many of them, especially in high-density areas, might be Democrats. Project Vote report documents longstanding GOP efforts to intimidate voters, especially those who commit the sin of voting while poor. Cynically, Republicans are using foreclosure lists and addresses of hurricane-flattened homes to ferret out supposed "illegal" voters. This is voter suppression at its worst.
In the past, some states required registrants to live in a "traditional dwelling." However, judicial decisions in court cases and the enactment of federal and state laws have eliminated that requirement. Today, homeless individuals in all states - including people who live on the streets -- have the right to register and vote.
You don't need a home to vote. Let me repeat that. You don't need a home to vote!
Court case after court case affirms the right to vote for our roofless Americans. Across this country, homeless advocates and service providers are facilitating registration for folks who wouldn't otherwise have an opportunity to vote -- people who have no fixed residence. Men and women who can perhaps only list a park bench or street corner as their only address. The only requirement for the right-to-vote is proper identification. That's it!
As soup kitchens, homeless shelters and advocacy workers strive to register their clients (see film Here), Acting Executive Director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, Michael Stoops, a folksy soft-spoken man, ingeniously suggests homeless shelters also apply to become polling places. He recalls speaking with two gentlemen, one who hadn't voted since Kennedy in 1960 and another who last voted for Roosevelt in 1944. The two men were stunned to know they still have the right to vote. Of course, there have been barriers thrown up by Republicans who callously assert the homeless should focus on getting their lives together rather than trying to vote. In contrast, Stoops notes that many people he meets are what he calls the "Intellectual Homeless" who spend their days productively informing themselves in libraries, reading literature and current events on the Internet.
Still, Republicans currently have about 30 programs (read, "scams") to make certain that voters -- especially voters in highly Democratic areas -- are effectively removed from the American election process. Like petulant siblings, they cry, "he did it too," claiming Democrats practice the same tactics. Not true. What Democrats may be most guilty of is not screaming loud enough to the media, the courts, the people -- until a groundswell of a loud and clear "No Way" is heard.
In a September 22 discussion on Air America Radio's Ring of Fire, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. outlined several startling ways that Republicans are employing to see that millions of votes are tossed. Here's just one portion of that discussion:
"Let me tell you about one other of these scams people should know about. If you're a newly registered voter -- and of course the Democrats have done these gigantic registration drives -- 12 million people on registration -- if you're a new voter you MUST include your license or some other state I.D. when you come to vote. What that means is that ... if they send in [an] absentee ballot and they don't include a color copy of their license their vote is going to be thrown into a trash can. And none of these people know this because you have had to read the law in order to know it. So there is no notification for when you fill out your registration form, so all of those 12 million people that the Democrats have registered: those ballots are going to be just thrown out."
Who would know that? Certainly even the savviest individual, well versed in (the Help America Vote Act of 2002) probably wouldn't know their vote is pitched out on such a ridiculous technicality. Are you mad yet? I am.
Sure, we're familiar with the chronically homeless -- at least, those who seem to visibly fit the caricature of a "street person" hauling a shopping cart. But now we have all these newly homeless people. Remember our foreclosure mess? Remember those tragic scenes after Hurricane Ike? Remember our Vets? According to the Veterans Administration, "Conservatively, one out of every three homeless men who is sleeping in a doorway, alley or box in our cities and rural communities has put on a uniform and served this country." Now we find out that every new voter registration is at risk of being challenged simply because their mail-in ballot doesn't contain a color copy of their identification, or because their mailbox has blown away, or some other specious reasons devised to keep Americans from having their good faith vote counted. This is more than shameless.
The contrast of a homeless individual registering to vote from a cardboard box to John McCain -- and his multiple million dollar homes -- is about as stark as it gets.
The difference between whispering our displeasure for fear of offending anyone and consciously lifting up every homeless man and woman who deserves to enter a voting booth, may just equal the difference between "No Way" and "Yes We Can."