This Independence Day will find many more homeless and impoverished citizens with greater obstacles to overcome to exercise their right to participate in the political process, according to a report released today by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (NLCHP). The difficulties are the result of changes in election laws following the missteps in the 2000 Presidential election.
The report, "Voter Registration and Voting: Ensuring the Legal Rights of Homeless People", further cited changes to both the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (the "Motor-Voter Act") and the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) and their impact on homeless people in key states.
In any given year some 3.5 million men, women, and children are homeless in America. Approximately 60 percent, or 2.1 million people, experiencing homelessness are of voting age.
"What we've found is that changes in election laws have actually made it more difficult for many Americans to exercise their fundamental right to vote," said NLCHP Executive Director Maria Foscarinis. "Homeless and impoverished Americans face hurdles to registration and voting that other citizens do not. It's critical that homeless citizens not be overlooked as we approach the fall, and that their voices - and - votes are heard in this year's election."
Homeless persons face barriers in registering and voting because they lack a stable residence or identification documents. Such barriers can disenfranchise homeless people. Obstacles include proof of length of residency, mailing address, identification requirements, the manner in which voter registration lists are purged, and the impact of felony convictions upon voting rights.
The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 was adapted to make voter registration easier by increasing the convenience of registration methods and limiting a states ability to block people from voting.
Following the difficulties during the 2000 election, the Help America Vote Act of 2004 was designed to ensure accurate voting and prevent fraud. It does this in part by imposing uniform registration and balloting requirements on the states. However, its new identification requirements pose problems for homeless people.
Specifically, federal and state voting laws impose the following barriers in the following states:
· 28 states have residency requirements of 20 days or more before an election to vote, including 11 of the key 17 'swing' states (AZ, AK, CO, ID, MI, MN, MS, NV, OH, PA & WV); · 35 states have mailing address requirements, 12 of which are 'swing' states (AZ, CO, FL, LA, ME, MI, MN, MS, NH, PA, TN & VA); · All states require some sort of identifying information to register and/or vote; · 33 states remove names from registration lists when voters fail to vote in elections or respond to mailings confirming continued eligibility; and · 48 states disenfranchise individuals while incarcerated, with 8 states permanently disenfranchising those convicted of felonies, unless and until they are pardoned.
Recommendations for Policy-Makers
· Conduct public education campaigns to inform people who are experiencing homelessness that they do not need a traditional dwelling to vote. · Establish mailing address alternatives for people who are homeless, such as mail delivery to accessible city governmental offices. · Encourage the United States Postal Service to allow no-fee post offices boxes for homeless people and offer the general delivery option at more postal offices per city, with a larger window for times to pick up mail. · Amend state laws that impose stringent identification requirements for registering or voting, since homeless people often have difficulty meeting those requirements. · Ensure that state boards of elections are properly training election officials and poll workers and posting information about voting procedures at polls.
NLCHP is providing the report to stakeholders who directly assist homeless persons and those who work with government agencies that manage the voting process to ensure a full understanding of the Motor Voter Act and HAVA.
National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty
The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty was established in June 1989, two years after Congress passed the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, by Maria Foscarinis, a former corporate lawyer and major architect of the McKinney Act, the first and still only comprehensive federal legislation addressing homelessness. It is governed by a twelve-member board of directors that includes partners in major national law firms, prominent researchers, and homeless and formerly homeless people.
NLCHPs mission is to prevent and end homelessness by serving as the legal arm of the nationwide movement to end homelessness. Based in Washington, D.C., NLCHP works with organizations across the country. NLCHP pursues three main strategies: impact litigation, policy advocacy, and public education.