If registering to vote or voting itself were as easy and simple as we would like to think it is, then I would not have needed to volunteer on Friday or Monday. It has been over four years since voting rights were restored for people with Washington State felony records so long as they are no longer under Department of Corrections. (Even more, a person with a federal felony conviction or felony conviction in another state never lost their right to vote in Washington.) And still, on Friday and Monday, I stunned a handful of individuals when I told them, “No, you can actually vote! Here’s a pamphlet about it – I’m not lying to you!”
One man, older in age with a youthful spirit and appearance, looked at me with a wide-eyed, winded expression and quietly said, “I’ve never voted, never been able to. I can’t believe this.” We shook hands and smiled, one registered voter to another.
Although voting rights were never revoked for people who are homeless, it takes a lot of extra understanding to know how to register.
Another man, who apologized for smelling ‘wet’ because he had been out in the chilly Seattle rain the past three days, told me that he could not vote because he is homeless. “You absolutely can, no matter your housing status!” Still surprised by this news, he and I walked through the form, using the 2013 Voter Registration Guide to explain the difference between ‘residential address’ and ‘mailing address,’ and how to fill both of them out when one is homeless. After the form was signed and dated, the gentleman thanked me for walking over to him in the first place. His wheels still turning, he inquired, “Can the Voter ID card help me get a license?” I looked at him, smiled and said, “Yes, it counts as an alternate document.” “Awesome,” he said while nodding his head. I could not agree more.
I am so grateful that I was able to be at the same place at the same time as each of these gentlemen, and the many other individuals who share similar circumstances and (mis)information.
Others updated their registration. Quite a few learned that General Delivery [through the USPS] has limited availability. Many more gave a thumbs-up, indicating they were registered, updated, and ready to vote come November. A handful of individuals, proud of their vote, pulled out their Voter ID cards as proof! Some even shared their well-informed views on current candidates and policies relating to homelessness. Still, I approached individuals who deeply felt the systemic nature of their disenfranchisement, and had little interest in voting, whether it was available now or in the future:
“They [elected officials] do not really care about me.”
“My one vote is not going to matter.”
“Not one person in those buildings or on that ballot represents me.”
I recommit myself to the work I do each and every time I hear a human being speak their truth, especially when hope feels lost among those who are so deeply affected by the substantial barriers created within our society. We create the world we want to live in with every decision, non-decision, and mis- or under-informed decision. I may be one person but, on Friday and Monday combined, I assisted 24 adults who were invoking their right to vote, many for the very first time. Together, each of us will make a difference on November 5th, 2013 and beyond.