An estimated 643,000 votes for the upcoming presidential election may go to waste.
According to the “State of Homeless in America 2012 Report,” issued by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, there are 643,067 homeless people in the U.S. With the presidential election only two months away, the homeless vote may matter now more than ever before.
At the Salem Human Rights and Relations Advisory Commission (HRRAC) meeting last Tuesday night, held at the Salem City Hall, the commissioners acknowledged the urgency to inform the homeless that they too can let their voices be heard.
In the 2008 presidential election, the amount of voters among people with the lowest income and the people with no reported income (those classified as homeless), resulted to fall into the lowest for any demographic. According to Neil Donovan, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH), only one-tenth of homeless individuals actually exercise the right to vote.
This may be due to misconceptions that the homeless cannot vote due to lack of an address, as was noted by Salem commissioner Bennie Yows. “We need to inform these people that there are ways they can vote,” Yows said. “We need to explain to them how the voting system works.”
The voting rules and regulations are outlined on The Partnership for Safety and Justice website. It states that those people who do not have a home are allowed to register with the address where they spend the most time at. “If a person does not have a place to pick up mail,” the website states, “he or she can use the county clerk’s office as the mailing address. He or she will have to go there to pick up a ballot there when the ballots go out.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, Salem’s Deputy City Manager Kacey Duncan also provided a few options where the local homeless can be provided with an address. “I know the Union Gospel Mission provides a permanent address for sex offenders, so they might be a resource,” Duncan said. “You might also try the Arches program and the Hope program.”
Yows stressed the importance of this issue. “We need to find a way to make these people aware,” Yows said.
“These people still have voting rights and they need to know,” commissioner Char Tong said.
With 643,067 votes on the line, the homeless vote may be a game-changer in the election, especially in some swing states.
Chairman of the HRRAC, Nick Wiens, agreed with Yows and Tong but also reminded the commission that it isn’t up to them to take full responsibility if the homeless don’t vote. “We can bring them to water, but we can’t make them drink.”