By: Tim Houchen
September 20, 2020 —
This is the first article in a series titled,”It’s Our Time, Our Voice: California Homeless Votes Count 2020.” This series of articles is dedicated to the 2020 General Election and how it relates to persons experiencing homelessness in California. This first article identifies the barriers that have disenfranchised homeless voters in the past and simplifies voter registration in 2020 using information from the Secretary of State’s website. Next topics include ways that homeless advocates and volunteers can assist and support homeless voters, voter education of candidates and ballot measures that affect the homeless, and spotlights on candidates throughout the state that are homeless or have personal experience with homelessness.
The right of citizens to choose their leaders through the election process is the cornerstone of American democracy. Not only is voting a right, it is a privilege that is not taken advantage of enough for some citizens who choose to not participate in elections. In fact, over the past 50 years only about 50 – 60% of eligible voters turn out at the polls for most elections.
There are those that are disconnected from engaging in the political atmosphere that surrounds elections by choice, and there are others who are disenfranchised from the election process and are often frustrated by barriers that make it difficult or even impossible to access the election process at all.
In America, disenfranchised populations include people of color, persons living in poverty, naturalized citizens with conflicts in culture and language, persons with disabilities and persons experiencing homelessness are all consistently and poorly represented populations as far as voter turn-out.
Historically, these groups have faced numerous barriers which have limited, if not prevented, their participation in the election process.
Other articles in our series
“It’s Our Time, Our Voice: California Homeless Votes Count 2020”
Homeless Advocates and Volunteers Should Assist Homeless Persons To Vote
Some examples of barriers faced by persons experiencing homelessness is the lack of appropriate identification documents required by some states in order to register to vote. Homeless persons may also lack the resources to educate themselves about candidates and propositions in an election making some feel under qualified to vote. They may even have trouble getting to the polls on election day. Some may not even be aware that no state requires residents to have a traditional residence in order to vote in elections.
Many changes in the election process have taken place in recent years and some of those changes have made the election process more accessible to disenfranchised populations. The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002 was signed into law by former President Bush. The bill was drafted in reaction to the controversy surrounding the 2000 presidential election when nearly 2 million ballots were disqualified because they registered either multiple votes or no vote at all after being passed through vote-counting machines.
In the year 2000 Presidential election, Republican candidate George W. Bush defeated Democrat nominee, Al Gore, the incumbent vice president. It was one of the closest presidential elections ever and one of very few in which the winning candidate lost the popular vote.
HAVA mandates that all states and localities upgrade many aspects of their election procedures, including their voting machines, registration processes and poll worker training. The intentions of HAVA were to ensure that only one vote would be cast for each ballot and that duplicate ballots would be caught before being counted.
The specifics of implementation have been left up to each state, which allows for varying interpretations of the federal law. Some of these allowed interpretations explain why some of the new rules are different from state-to-state.
HAVA also required states to make voting more accessible to persons with disabilities. Compounded with the various interpretations of the law and the work of advocates, California is much more friendly today towards homeless voters than in the past. In fact. I will show you that it is easy to register and vote in the upcoming elections and hopefully we can make it easier for advocates and volunteers to assist those that may need more help than others.
You can be assured that the information provided in this article is based entirely on procedures adopted by the State of California.
So, can persons experiencing homelessness vote? They sure can and with some new changes in the election system and just a little help they can vote more effectively than ever before.
Dates and deadlines
- Election Day is Tuesday, November 3, 2020.
- The deadline to register online to vote is Monday, October 19, 2020.
- The deadline for registering by mail to vote is (postmarked by) Monday, October 19, 2020.
- The deadline to register in person to vote is Tuesday, November 3, 2020. Conditional voter registration is a safety net for Californians who miss the deadline to register to vote or update their voter registration information. Voters can use the conditional voter registration process from the day after the deadline all the way through Election Day. Eligible citizens can go to their county election office, polling place, or vote center to register and vote conditionally. These ballots will be processed once the county elections office has completed the voter registration verification process.
- All registered voters will automatically be mailed a vote-by-mail ballot for the November 3, 2020, General Election.
- The early voting period runs from Monday, October 5, 2020 to Monday, November 2, 2020, but dates and hours may vary based on where you live.
- You can also register and vote on Election Day.
To Register To Vote in California, you must be:
- A U.S. citizen and a resident of California
- 18 years or older on Election Day
- Not currently in state or federal prison or on parole for the conviction of a felony
- Not found mentally incompetent by a court
Just because a person has a felony criminal record does not mean that they are not eligible to vote. We will cover this topic later in this article.
Check your voter registration status
You can quickly check the status of your voter registration by answering a few short questions.
Register to vote online, by mail or in person California offers voter registration online, by mail, and in person. Online voter registration is available here. You can also request and complete a paper voter registration form and mail or hand deliver it to your county elections official to register to vote. Contact your County Elections Office for information regarding mail-in registration. You can find your County Elections Office and contact information here. or call Secretary of State’s toll-free Voter Hotline
(800) 345-VOTE (8683).
Same Day Voter Registration
Same Day Voter Registration, also known as Conditional Voter Registration in state law, is a safety net for Californians who miss the deadline to register to vote or update their voter registration information for an election.
Eligible citizens who need to register within 14 days of an election can complete this process to register and vote at their county elections office, polling place, or vote center. Their ballots will be processed and counted once the county elections office has completed the voter registration verification process. Find and contact your county elections office here. or call Secretary of State’s toll-free Voter Hotline (800) 345-VOTE (8683).
Types of I.D. necessary for proving identity
In most cases, a California voter is not required to show identification to a polling place worker before casting a ballot.
However, if you are voting for the first time after registering to vote by mail and did not provide your driver license number, California identification number or the last four digits of your social security number on your registration form, you may be asked to show a form of identification when you go to the polls. In this case, be sure to bring identification with you to your polling place or include a copy of it with your vote-by-mail ballot.
There are a number of officially acceptable forms of identification to use when voting for the first time including the sample ballot booklet you received from your county elections office or other documents sent to you by a government agency. Check here for a full list of officially acceptable forms of voter identification. You can get more information by calling the Secretary of State’s toll-free Voter Hotline at (800) 345-VOTE (8683).
Voters without I.D. can still vote
If you are asked to provide proof of identification and cannot produce the documentation at your polling place, you may cast a provisional ballot. A provisional ballot is used to record a vote when there are questions about a given voter’s eligibility that must be resolved before the vote can count. The federal Help America Vote Act of 2002 guarantees that, in most states, the voter can cast a provisional ballot if the voter states that he or she is entitled to vote.
Persons experiencing homelessness can also conditionally register on the same day they cast a provisional ballot in person. Voters don’t need an ID to register; just the last four digits of their Social Security number.
Whether a provisional ballot is counted is contingent upon the verification of that voter’s eligibility to vote as determined by election officials. Provisional ballots are not usually counted until the day after the election. If you go to a polling place on election day and they can’t find your name on the list or you don’t have I.D. or any other requirement is not fulfilled, demand they give you a provisional ballot, but do not leave until you have voted.
Registering your address
Even though an address is required in order to vote, the residence you report on your Voter Registration Form doesn’t have to be a home or apartment.
Homeless registrants can list a shelter address where they could receive election mail.
You can also simply provide a description of the location you consider to be your home. This includes cross streets, landmarks, or any place that you recognize as your place of residence.
However, people who provide cross streets or landmarks must also include a mailing address to receive election materials. A P.O. box, business, or mail drop address is required, or a nonprofit or someone you know, may allow you to use their address as a mailing address.
How to find your polling place
This Voting Information Tool will tell you where you can vote, what’s on the ballot, and how to contact your election officials. Just enter your address ( or the address you used to register to vote with) and click on the search button.
Voting Registration for persons with felony convictions and criminal histories
In 2016, California’s voting law changed. Then-Governor Jerry Brown signed California Assembly Bill AB2466, which changed various sections of California’s Elections Code to define a person who could register — and vote — in this manner:
“(a) A person entitled to register to vote shall be a United States Citizen, a resident of California, not imprisoned or on parole for the conviction of a felony, and at least 18 years of age at the time of the next election.” (emphasis added) After the governor signed this bill, people sentenced to county jail — not prison — after being convicted of a felony crime gained the right to vote. People on probation, or who have completed their prison sentence and any associated parole, are also eligible to vote.
Voting Rights and Disenfranchisement
The people who serve in public office and craft our laws hold tremendous power over many aspects of our everyday lives. Sometimes those elected officials represent the views of a majority of their constituents, but sometimes they were elected to office by the slimmest majority of those voting — and many people didn’t vote.
In these close elections, every vote counts!
And yet many American citizens who would like to cast a vote cannot. According to The Sentencing Project, as of 2016, an estimated 6.1 million Americans were forbidden to vote (at least temporarily) because of a past or current felony criminal conviction.
That’s about 2.5 percent of the eligible voting population.
African-Americans are overly-represented in this group of disenfranchised citizens (those deprived of the right to vote). Some 7.4% of African Americans cannot vote, many of them in Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia.
State Differences in Voter Disenfranchisement
Given the importance of voting to the functioning of a democracy, one might think the U.S. Constitution would include voter safeguards and specify voter eligibility. In a broad sense, it does. Land-owning white men always had the right to vote. Black men gained the right to vote with the 15th Amendment. And women gained the right to vote with the 19th Amendment.
But when it comes to the details of who can be excluded from voting, that was left up to each state to decide. When it comes to the voting rights of felons, state laws vary widely. According to ProCon.org:
Fortunately, the State of California has moved towards re-enfranchising many persons that have lost their right to vote due to criminal convictions. We have found all of the most up-to-date information from the California Secretary of State’s office website at: https://www.sos.ca.gov/#main
Persons with a criminal history who can register to vote:
- In county jail
- Serving a misdemeanor sentence (misdemeanors never effect your right to vote)
- Because jail time is a condition of probation (misdemeanor or felony)
- Serving a felony jail sentence
- Awaiting trial
- On probation
- On mandatory supervision
- On post-release community supervision
- On federal supervised release
- A person with juvenile wardship adjudication
Persons with a criminal history who cannot register and vote:
- Currently imprisoned in:
- State prison
- Federal prison
- Currently serving a state prison felony sentence in a county jail or other correctional facility
- Currently in county jail awaiting transfer to a state or federal prison for a felony conviction
- Currently in county jail for a parole violation
- Currently on parole with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation
- Once you are done with parole your right to vote is restored, but you must re-register online at RegisterTo Vote.ca.gov or by filling out a paper voter registration card.
If you are unsure of what type of sentence you are serving, ask your probation officer, parole officer, or staff at your correctional facility.
In California, citizens who are eligible to vote must re-register in order to regain their voting rights. You can do so by filling out a paper voter registration card or by re-registering online at RegisterToVote.ca.gov.
If you are in doubt of your status or your eligibility to vote, please use the Restore Your Vote Tool to determine your eligibility.
If a past criminal charge has kept you from voting and you believe that your voting rights should be restored, a California civil rights attorney may be able to help you.
A “yes” vote supports this constitutional amendment to allow people on parole for felony convictions to vote.
A “no” vote opposes this constitutional amendment, thereby continuing to prohibit people who are on parole for felony convictions from voting.
Proposition 17 is a constitutional amendment that would allow people on parole for felony convictions to vote in California.
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Currently, the California Constitution disqualifies people with felonies from voting until their imprisonment and parole are completed. The ballot measure would amend the state constitution to allow people with felonies who are on parole to vote; therefore, the ballot measure would keep imprisonment as a disqualification for voting but remove parole status.
We are no longer satisfied with disenfranchisement! Please stand by for our next article in our series titled, “It’s Our Time, Our Voice: California Homeless Votes Count 2020”, with articles that feature all of the most useful and effective information for homeless advocates, volunteers and persons experiencing homelessness to ensure that our homeless communities across California have a voice in the election process in 2020.
It’s Our Time, Our Voice!
Links from this article —
Check Your Voter Registration Status
Online Voter Registration in California
Complete list of acceptable forms of voter I.D.’s
Secretary of State’s toll-free Voter Hotline
(800) 345-VOTE (8683)
Finding and contacting your County Elections Office
or call Secretary of State’s toll-free Voter Hotline
(800) 345-VOTE (8683)
Find Your Polling Place
Do you have a criminal conviction? Restore your vote here
California Secretary of State’s website
Find a civil rights attorney
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