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The Homeless Vote: Can You Legally Cast a Ballot?

Homeless citizens can register and vote in all 50 states. However, the number of people experiencing homelessness that vote is extremely low, likely because voting procedures are long and exhausting, especially for the homeless.

Although none of the 50 states require a physical address to vote, homeless individuals face multiple obstacles in the voting process.

Can Homeless People Vote?

In the past, states required voters to show proof of physical residence before they allowed them to register to vote. However, courts have struck down these laws and now states must only require people registering to vote to list a place they consider their residence, or where they sleep at night. In many states, this can be a shelter, or even a bench in the park.

The purpose of providing a place of residence is to: 1) make sure that a person is registering to vote in the correct district; and 2) assign the voter a polling place.

A Mailing Address May Be Required

Even though people experiencing homelessness can vote, there are many systemic and practical challenges they face when they try to cast their ballot. One of these challenges is not having a mailing address. Most states require everyone registering to vote to provide a mailing address where voter ID cards and other election-related materials can be sent.

The good news is that the mailing address does not need to be the voter's residential address. Instead, it can be anywhere willing to accept mail on the voter's behalf, such as an advocacy organization or shelter.

Most States Have Voter ID Requirements

The majority of states in the U.S. require voters to show some kind of identification like a state-issued ID, a driver's license, social security card, or a birth certificate before they can register to vote. Some states like Virginia and Georgia require voters to provide a picture ID, while other states like Alaska accept non-photo IDs. First-time voters are usually required to show even more documents that prove their eligibility.

What Happens If You Don't Have an ID?

Getting through the lengthy administrative procedures for a state-issued ID or driver's license can be very demanding, particularly for the homeless.

States may offer some alternatives that allow people to vote without an ID. These alternatives will vary depending on how strict a state's voter ID laws are.

Strict voter ID law states

If a state is a "strict" voter ID state, voters must cast a provisional ballot and afterward take extra steps to ensure the state counts their vote.

Non-strict voter ID law states

Unlike strict voter ID laws, voters in these states don't need to take further action after election day to ensure the state counts their votes. States that follow this approach will usually make voters sign a sworn affidavit or make them vote on a provisional ballot and confirm their eligibility later on.

The following table shows states voter ID laws:

Strict voter ID states

Non- strict voter ID states

Arizona

Alaska

Georgia *

Alabama*

Indiana *

Arkansas *

Kansas *

Colorado

Mississippi *

Connecticut

North Dakota

Delaware

Ohio

Florida*

Wisconsin*

Hawaii*

Virginia *

Idaho*

 

Iowa

 

Louisiana*

 

Kentucky

 

Missouri

 

Michigan*

 

Montana

 

North Carolina

 

New Hampshire

 

Oklahoma

 

Rhode Island*

 

South Carolina

 

South Dakota*

 

Texas*

 

Tennessee*

 

Utah

 

Washington

 

West Virginia

 

*States that require a photo ID.

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Are There Any Exceptions to the Voter ID Requirement?

Although most states have a firm voter ID requirement, some states have designated certain exceptions to make voting easier for homeless people. Indiana and Tennessee, for instance, have exemptions for people who are indigent or have religious objections to being photographed.

Other Voting Barriers Homeless Citizens Face

Other barriers homeless citizens face include transportation problems and difficulty accessing resources to learn about voting.

Transportation problems 

Identifying the polling station and getting there are also barriers homeless people face when they are trying to vote. This is especially true if the voting stations are far from where homeless people live, or if public transportation is not conveniently located near the voting stations.

Many voter-rights organizations throughout the country provide transportation services to the homeless and anyone else needing a ride to polling places, though it isn't always easy for those in need to locate such services.

Awareness of voting procedures

Homeless people may not have the resources to learn the election procedures in their states, so they miss out on the opportunity. Other problems include not knowing where to get the proper voter registration documents and not being aware of the candidates that are running for office.

Still Have Questions?

The homeless voting rights manual prepared by the National Coalition for the Homeless can be a good resource to learn more about voting rights for the homeless.

An Attorney Can Assist If Your Voting Rights Were Violated

The right to vote is the cornerstone of the American democracy. If you believe your right to vote has been violated or are worried about your ability to cast your ballot, you should consider speaking with a civil rights attorney to get assistance.

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