How voting laws could disenfranchise those affected most by the economic downturn.

2012 is shaping up to be another historic election year, but voter registration requirements and changes in Voter ID laws have the potential to impede the voting process and create a lot of frustration. Most people who are not registered, but want to vote, probably won’t have too many hurdles to clear since they likely have a Driver’s Licence, State I.D. card or a Social Security card, and a permanent place of residence. If this is you – and you’re a Colorado resident – it’s a simple matter of visiting the Colorado Secretary of State website and either filling out the online form, or downloading the printable form to fill out and mail in. (If you’re uncertain whether or not you are registered, you can verify your status using the same link.) If you are outside of Colorado, you can go to Vote411.org to get voter registration information for any state.

But, what if the description above doesn’t pertain to you? What if you don’t have a Driver’s License or a State I.D.? What if you’ve lost your home, or can’t afford a place to live or you’re staying somewhere temporarily, but unsure of how long you’ll be there? The economic downturn has displaced hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people which means new rules and new obstacles, including those that at one point might have seemed so simple to overcome.

There are two encouraging things to remember about voting: First, as a citizen you cannot be denied the right to vote unless you are a convicted felon, in prison or have been declared mentally incompetent in a court of law (varies by state) . Second, “You Don’t Need a Home to Vote.” It’s the law and is also an ongoing campaign of the National Coalition for the Homeless, an advocacy organization whose mission is “creating the systemic and attitudinal changes necessary to prevent and end homelessness while ensuring that the immediate needs of those experiencing homelessness are met.

Under Federal law, citizens over the age of 18 cannot be denied the right to vote, regardless of race, religion, sex, disability, or sexual orientation. In order to vote, however, citizens must register (except in N. Dakota), and laws regarding the registration process vary from state to state.

Under Colorado State law, in order to register to vote, you:

  • Must be a U.S. Citizen
  • Must be 18 years of age on or before the date of the election
  • Are not serving a sentence (including parole) for a felony conviction
  • Must be a resident of Colorado and at your present address at least 30 days before the election  (Residency for the purpose of voting means the principal or primary home of a person. You must have a residence in order to register to vote.)

That  last line makes it sound as if you don’t have a home, you can’t register to vote, which is absolutely NOT the case. Residency is required primarily to establish that a voter lives in the district they wish to vote in as well as to determine their polling place/voting location, but your residence does not have to be a “traditional” one. Under most circumstances, the location of a residence may be indicated by drawing a map or by providing a general descriptive location; a street corner, a park, a shelter, or any other location where an individual stays at night. A mailing address is also required so Voter I.D. cards and election material can be sent to voters, but the mailing address does not have to be a residential address, it can be any place willing to accept mail on behalf of a voter such as a shelter, outreach center or advocacy group.

HAVA nice day!

In response to the 2000 election debacle, Congress passed the 2002 Help America Vote Act (HAVA) which imposed new election standards in every state. Procedures, registration processes and voting machines were required to be streamlined and updated (remember the “hanging Chads?). HAVA also set new I.D. standards requiring voters to present a valid Driver’s License number or the last 4 digits of their Social Security number when registering to vote. If the registrant hasn’t either, the state must issue the applicant a voter ID number which serves to identify the applicant in the state’s SVRS (Statewide Voter Registration System). Also in the revised standards, any voter who registers by mail, and who has not previously voted in a Federal election provide current and valid photo identification or a copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other government document that shows the voter’s name and address. You must also show identification when you go to your polling place or the first time you vote using a mail-in ballot. A list of acceptable forms of I.D. in Colorado can be found here.

If you find you are having trouble registering to vote, without a permanent home address or for any other reason, there are a number of advocacy groups you can reach out to for information and assistance (see below). Wherever you stand on policies and issues, whoever you want to have representing you in Washington D.C.– everyone’s vote counts, more than ever in important elections years like this, so get registered and go vote!

Advocacy Organizations:

Colorado Coalition for the Homeless

National Coalition for the Homeless

Advancement Project

Information for Voters and Voting: