By Diana Jordan
As a first-generation and low-income student growing up in a poverty-stricken community known as the Del Paso Heights in Sacramento, Calif., I have always been interested in social and economic policy.
Questions like “What can the government do to help my community?” “What policies could help low-income voters?” or “How can low-income citizens ensure their voices are heard?” still run through my mind as a political science major at Stanford University.
It wasn’t until moving to Denver for my internship with NCSL’s Elections and Redistricting team that I realized many answers to my questions would not only help low-income populations like the one I was raised in, but populations who tend to face even more issues, such as those experiencing homelessness.
My project, Voting for All Americans: People Experiencing Homelessness, is the second installment in the Voting for All Americans’ series; the first being about voting for Native Americans, and upcoming pages addressing voting for uniformed and overseas citizens (UOCAVA) and voters with disabilities. This project opened my eyes to the unique challenges and the potential solutions to registering and voting for those without homes.
In 2020, the population of people experiencing homelessness in the United States was 580,466, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. Generally, about a third of this group is likely to be registered but just 10% actually vote. Contributing factors to low registration/voting among homeless persons include requirements to have proof of address and identity to register to vote. Registration is made more difficult if you literally do not have an address or the proper documents.
Homeless people face challenges such as a lack of address, lack of identification, unreliable transportation, and limited access to political information that hinder their ability to register and vote. While laws on the number of polling places, absentee/mail voting and Election Day registration may have an impact on voting for people without homes (as well as voters who may move often and/or are low-income), the key question is how to get people experiencing homelessness registered without having proof of address.
At least 13 states have laws that specifically address this. For example, some states, like Colorado, allow people experiencing homelessness to report a shelter, a homeless services provider, a park, a campground, a vacant lot, a business address, or any other physical location as their address on registration forms. Some states, like Iowa, simply ask homeless people to report “a place to which the person often returns” on their forms.
To learn more about the challenges facing this group’s ability to register and vote, visit the Voting for All Americans: People Experiencing Homelessness. This page will go over data on registration and voter turnout, potential challenges to voting, state policies on voting and their potential impact, state laws that address residency, homelessness and voting, and recent legislation specifically addressing voting.
Enjoy the series? Be on the lookout for our Voting for All Americans: UOCAVA and Voting for All Americans: People with Disabilities pages in the future.
Diana Jordan is an intern in NCSL's Redistricting and Elections Program.