People who are experiencing homelessness have a right to vote and to express their views by voting in all elections. Yet because of barriers to the registration process, and access to voting; coupled with the disproportionate amount of black and brown people who are also homeless, they are often disenfranchised and kept out of the voting process. — National Alliance to End Homelessness
“My family was adamant that voting is important. My mother used to tell me that I was blessed to be able to vote because she experienced a time when many Black people couldn’t.” said Joseph’s Home alumnus James. “Voting makes you an American and is a great privilege.”
The right to vote, however, has not always been fully extended to oppressed groups: Black people and people experiencing homelessness. Although the 15th Amendment gave Black men the right to vote in 1870, states and local municipalities continued to use tactics such as poll taxes, literacy tests and even intimidation to stop people from casting ballots.
In March 1965, Black activists and civil rights leaders, including the late Representative John Lewis, led the Selma-to-Montgomery March, which raised awareness of the barriers faced by Black voters and called for national voting equality. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 followed, which guaranteed the right to vote for Black Americans and worked to remove barriers, including requiring literacy tests, mandating federal oversight of voter registration, and giving the U.S. attorney general the duty of challenging the use of poll taxes for state and local elections. This year, we also celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the passing of the 19th Amendment which afforded women the right to vote.
But, barriers still remain. Voting requires a residence or particular forms of identification, which are often unavailable or difficult to access for the homeless population. Cuyahoga County requires being a resident of Ohio for at least 30 days to register to vote, which is verified by an address.
For many Joseph’s Home residents, getting an ID is a turning point. Opportunities for housing become more attainable and some barriers decrease. For James, it is not just about his opportunities, but also future generations. “You are voting for your right! But you are also voting so your children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren can come into a better world.”
“Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.” – Representative John Lewis
The voter registration deadline in Ohio is October 5. To register, visit www.olvr.ohiosos.gov