SACRAMENTO, Calif. — For homeless and low-income people, there are several hurdles that come with voting even if there are myriad policies and ballot measures directly affecting those facing economic hardship.
In all 50 states, people experiencing homelessness can register and vote, however there can be special challenges when it comes to voter registration. The Sacramento County elections website lets people register to vote online and provides insight into voting when people don't have a home address.
Even though an address is required in order to vote, the residence you report on your Voter Registration Form doesn't have to be a home or apartment.
Homeless registrants can list a shelter address where they could receive election mail.
You can also simply provide a description of the location you consider to be your home. This includes cross streets, landmarks, or any place that you recognize as your place of residence.
However, people who provide cross streets or landmarks must also include a mailing address to receive election materials. A P.O. box, business, or mail drop address is required. For many homeless individuals, providing a mailing address is just not feasible.
This particular issue can also be a problem for those who have been displaced by natural disaster—wildfires, floods, etc.—who are currently seeking shelter in emergency accommodations or out of state.
If you are living at any address for an extended length of time, you can be considered as residing there and can register that address.
If you are forced to move around frequently to find accommodations, a P.O. Box or mail drop address might be the best option. Those living out of state also have the option to vote by absentee ballot.
In addition, voters must also provide a valid California driver’s license or state ID when registering to vote in California. If an applicant does not have either, they can use the last four digits of their Social Security number.
An ID is only required at the polls if none of the above forms have been submitted and confirmed during registration. This is good news when it comes to removing obstacles for voting rights.
However, many homeless and low-income residents might not have the appropriate identification. It costs time and money to get a proper state ID.
For those who don't have these forms of identification or are struggling to obtain a hard copy for proof, voting remains stubbornly out of reach.
California, and Sacramento County in particular, are slowly tearing down barriers to make it easier for people to vote. Even so, there are still some inflexible obstacles for homeless individuals.
Getting people registered is the first step.
In Sacramento, you may register to vote at any time, but to be eligible to vote in an upcoming election, your Voter Registration Form must be submitted online by midnight—no later than 15 days before that election. If you are mailing a Voter Registration Form, it must be postmarked no later than 15 days before that election.
For the upcoming 2020 primary election, that means forms must be submitted or postmarked by Feb. 17.
You can register to vote in California, or check your voter registration status here.
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