It’s Not Always Easy, But There Are Ways Around the Many Barriers Keeping You From Exercising Your Rights
Voting has become a bit of a fraught topic in the United States these days. Perhaps it always was, depending on who you ask. But we can all agree that trying to have your vote counted in a system that ignores your existence, at best, or tries to prevent you from voting at all, at worst, is no small feat.
Voter suppression seems to be a favorite tool of oppression. So, many different marginalized groups are forced to contend with it. Today, we’re going to specifically address the possible ways unhoused people can overcome the unique barriers that come with voting without a house.
1. Understand Who Can Vote
In theory, any citizen of the United States is eligible to vote if they are over 18 or will be on Election Day. In practice, different states place different restrictions on this, with some deeming you ineligible if you have a felony conviction, specific psychiatric disabilities, or don’t meet certain residency requirements.
However, it’s important to note that you don’t need to be in housing to meet those residency requirements. You just have to have lived in a specific county for the month or so prior to the election.
2. Stay Tuned In To Upcoming Elections
While significant, national elections are harder to miss, smaller local elections slip by pretty quickly if you’re not tuned in to the right channels. Local elections often have the biggest impact on your day-to-day life and the policies that affect you. So it’s important to vote when you can.
As opposed to housed people who may be unaware of an upcoming election until a mail-in ballot shows up at their house, unhoused people have to do a little more digging and planning to have their vote counted. Waiting to make a plan until you see people walking by with “I voted” stickers probably will not produce the best outcome.
The sudden appearance of political lawn signs is a reliable way to tell an election is coming. The information is likely also available at your local library. If you have access to a reliable internet connection, you can sign up for election reminders at vote.org. That will require entering the address you used to register to vote, which brings me to the next tip:
3. Register Early If Possible
Early registration allows you to take advantage of tools like the one mentioned above. It also gives you one less hurdle to clear when time is limited on Election Day. Many states have deadlines for registration that fall long before the actual election. The earlier you get registered, the better. It’s a bit of a hassle, so it’s a good thing it doesn’t need to be done every time.
If you’re not yet registered to vote in the area where you currently live (double-check here), you can register in several different ways. It can be done online, by mail, or in person in most states.
If you live in one of the 42 states that allow online registration, you can do that right here. If not, you could download, print, and mail in the registration form here. Or, find your nearest Local Election Office to register in person.
To complete the process, you will likely need:
- Your name
- Date of birth
- Address where you can receive mail
- Address, nearest cross streets, or other description of the location you’re living so you can be placed in the correct district
- Possibly a photo ID depending on your state.
Not all states require identification. If you can’t provide it, officials may supply you with a voter registration number after submitting your application.
4. Customize Your Voting Plan
Once again, this will depend on both the state you’re living in and your circumstance. A voting plan can look very different for someone who lives in Los Angeles and can pick up a mail-in ballot from their PO box compared with someone living in rural Louisiana who has to rearrange their schedule and depend on transportation provided by an outreach organization just to make it to the polls on Election Day.
Whatever your situation, you want to know what options are available in your state and which ones will work best for you long before it’s time to implement them. And the more complicated your plan is, the more likely something will go wrong. That means having a plan b isn’t a bad idea either.
5. Know Who’s On The Ballot
It can feel like a colossal waste of time to spend hours looking into the candidates in an upcoming election and what they believe in. This is especially true when you’re struggling to get by and secure the necessities of life for yourself and your family members.
But if you’ve come this far and jumped through all the hoops required to get registered and prepared to vote, the final step is to make sure you’re voting for people who share your values and vision for the world. Or at least that you don’t circle a name going off a gut feeling and later come to regret that choice.
Tools like this provide sample ballots to research the candidates and make your selections ahead of time. However, many states have rules against using your cell phone or any electronic device at the polling place. So if you’re voting in person, it’s probably best to print out or write down your selections ahead of time.
Bonus Tip: Know When You Need to Re-Register
Many of us think of voter registration as a once-in-a-lifetime thing. But it could be a pretty frequent necessity for unhoused people, depending on how often your address changes.
You are supposed to fill out a new voter registration form whenever you change addresses, change your name, or sometimes when it’s been a while since the last time you voted in an election.
Check out this article if you want to help homeless people exercise their right to vote.