Voting Rights: The Homeless Have the Right to Vote

by Kelsey Wojdyla

Did you know homeless can vote? Not only does a voter registration card allow people to exercise their right to vote, it also serves as the initial piece of the identification puzzle.

Registering to vote is free and easy, but there are some stipulations. First, all applicants must be at least 18 years or older by the next election. Second, they must be a citizen of the United States and a resident of the state and county they are registering in for 30 days before the next election. Finally, if they are currently serving a sentence, or are on parole or probation for a felony, they are not eligible to vote.

Voter registration applications can be obtained from the Municipal Clerk, Commissioner of Registration Office, Division of Elections, or Division of Motor Vehicles. The registration deadline is 21 days before the next election. Therefore, in order to vote in the primary election on June 7, one must register by May 17. In order to vote in the general election on November 8, one must register by October 18. Lastly, there is a school budget and school board member’s election in April.

“You don’t have to have a home in order to register,” says Jane Berry, supervisor of the Division of Elections, “but you have to have someplace to receive your mail.”

In such cases, one can use the transitional building they live in, the library, the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, or even the Municipal Clerk as their home address. Simply fill out the rest of the form by printing clearly in ink, signing the bottom, and dropping it in the mailbox. The address for the Commissioner of Registration Office will be provided on the application based on county.

A sample ballot will be sent to the home address listed on the form about one week before each election. This ballot will contain the address of the polling place, which is open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Election Day.

“People don’t realize how important a voter registration card is in terms of getting other forms of identification,” says Scott Fairman, outreach specialist at the Mercer Alliance To End Homelessness.

The card acts as proof of address, or first-class mail, which helps in acquiring a birth certificate from the New Jersey Bureau of Vital Statistics. This certificate serves as proof of citizenship, and is considered a primary identification document. Next, a county photo ID can be obtained at the County Clerk’s Office using these two forms of identification. This government issued ID can then be used to receive a state photo ID. With this, one can obtain their social security card, which serves as a secondary identification document. “Without an ID in this day and age, it’s impossible to get legitimate employment and housing,” says Fairman.

In the past, Fairman has helped run voter registration campaigns during Project Homeless Connect, a bi-annual event that provides much needed services for the homeless. Nearly 100% of those who participated in the campaign received their voter registration cards from the Board of Elections in Mercer County by supplying their first and last name and the last 4 digits of their social security number. The general consensus: “that was easy!”

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2011 issue of the newspaper.