The lack of a permanent place of residence does not deprive anyone of the right to vote.

Although state and federal courts have defended the constitutional rights of homeless people for decades, there is still a misconception that a physical address is required to vote. This confusion may be one of the reasons why few homeless people ultimately participate in the political process. In 2012, one study found that only about 10% of homeless people actually voted.

Whether someone is in a shelter or a camp, California offers homeless residents several opportunities to participate in local elections.

How to register and vote

Process for uninhabited people to vote is the same throughout the Bay Area and the state.

You must be a U.S. Citizen of 18 years of age to be eligible, and many counties will require voters to present a valid ID or the last four digits of your Social Security Number.

For people worried about criminal history that does not affect the eligibility of voters in California. Anyone on parole, suspended or in prison for a petty offense or awaiting trial can register. The only restrictions are if you are currently serving a sentence for an offense in a county jail, state jail, or federal jail. But voting rights are restored when the sentence is completed.

Voters can register using a paper form – often found in libraries, government buildings and polling stations on election day – or online at California also allows same-day registration for people who go to a polling station, voting center, or district office on election day, November 8.

The “home address” field can be a permanent address or even a description of where you spend the most time, using identifiable intersections or public landmarks.

If you wish to receive election material – including ballot papers and voter information packets – you must provide a “postal address”. You can provide the address of a shelter, company, trusted friend or P.O. Box, but unless the person without an apartment is there, these locations cannot be used for registration.

This ensures that election officials can assign voters to the correct constituency so that everyone receives a ballot paper with a list of candidates and resources in their community.

Each ballot paper comes with a prepaid envelope so that anyone can return the ballot paper by post if this is easier than going to the polling station or the night safe in person. Ballot papers must be stamped by November 8 to be counted.

Barriers still make it difficult to vote

Even if voting is legal, a few barriers hinder the voting process for many homeless people.

Homeless attorney Shaunn Cartwright said most of the people he works with in South Bay do not realize they still have the right to do so.

“For many people, when they find out they can vote, they get very excited,” Cartwright said. “I think it’s partly due to a lack of power. They were just so incapacitated, deprived of their rights, and felt that they had no voice at all.

After this misconception has been cleared, people still have a hard time figuring out where to register to think about the issues that will affect them. For example, she said it was not uncommon for someone to live in Sunnyvale but had access to their post office in San Jose.

Cartwright believes that if more people knew they could influence their situation through involvement, they would choose to vote.

“Homeless people are often so busy struggling to survive that they don’t even know who the president is,” she said. “But when it comes to homeless people, it’s about little things like voting for a city council or county overseers – these are the people who directly contribute to your homelessness.”

This system can be even more complicated when people want to run for office without an apartment, as state law requires applicants to testify that they live at the exact address on the forms.

Mark Wassberg faces this difficult situation in Richmond, where he worked years ago and is now running for mayor in the November elections.

Although he may have spent years in his truck in the El Sobrante parking lot, thanks to the relationship he has developed with the church there, he has been registered to vote for years in Richmond using the Greater Richmond Interfaith Program address, the local community kitchen and resource center where he receives mail . This address in Richmond may be used for this purpose, but also cannot serve as his residence, which determines his voting area.

Wassberg said he did not know it was not legal to use the address and had not encountered any problems before. He said he is still determined to run in Richmond as he is primarily concerned about the city’s future.

“Whatever happens is happening,” said Wassberg. “At first, I had my doubts about it, but I had the opportunity to do so. I went downstairs and sorted out all the paperwork, paid the money, took part in the vote and now I’m running. That’s it. “

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