Collaborative Effort to Help Homeless Population Register to Vote
By Fatoumata Ceesay
Madison's homeless resource day center had its first voter registration outreach event Wednesday to increase voter turnout by people who are homeless.
The Beacon, which opened in October 2017 at 615 E. Washington Ave., collaborated with the Dane County Board and the League of Women Voters in Dane County to help homeless people learn how to get a voter ID and register in time for the upcoming election.
The drive was an opportunity for people to get familiar with the voting process and voter laws they might not be aware of.
Wisconsin law requires voters to have a valid Wisconsin state ID or driver's license. Gail Bliss, who works with the league, said voter ID laws can make it difficult for homeless people to vote.
“This new online system works well for people who have IDs and computer access,” she said. “It doesn’t help homeless people because it’s hard to register when you have nothing, which is why we do events like this.”
Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell said voting laws have had a negative impact on homeless voter turnout.
“The complicated nature of that law makes people confused,” he said. “They think if they don’t have the right address on their ID they can’t vote, which isn’t true. The ID is just there to show who you are.”
The Beacon, like other shelters, can give affidavits to people to use as their proof of address to register. McDonell said he hopes the voter drive can help mitigate some of the confusion people may have.
“We’ll do this again in the fall,” he said. “If we can even just get some people thinking about registering to vote and not being intimidated by the equipment, I think the familiarity will help folks feel comfortable voting.”
The Beacon Hosts a Voter Registration Drive
By Pawan Naidu
People experiencing homelessness and income insecurity may find it difficult to register to vote, so to make the process easier, the Beacon hosted a voter registration drive on Wednesday.
The day resource center, located at 815 E. Washington Ave., is run by Catholic Charities and offers shower facilities, laundry services, a mail center, shuttle rides to night shelters and basic breakfast and lunch. The second floor gives people access to a computer lab and services provided by a number of agencies.
As of 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday, 25 people had registered to vote. Registration was set to be open until 2 p.m. that day.
One of the biggest obstacles of people experiencing homelessness is registering a permanent address, and the Beacon helps with that.
“The process of voting can be very complicated. If a person doesn’t have a permanent address, the Beacon, as a service provider, can write an affidavit that can attest to where a person lives, and that will help a person register to vote,” said Yogesh Chawla, the Dane County Board supervisor who represents District 6 on the near east side of Madison.
Along with Chawla, other community leaders were there to assist. Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell and the League of Women’s Voters co-chair of affordable housing/homelessness, Gail Bliss, were also in attendance.
Bliss said it is not only important to register people to vote, but also to inform people about what’s on the ballot.
“I’ve talked to people and they only voted in presidential elections, if they voted at all. That’s because they didn’t understand the issues or who was running,” Bliss said. “City and county government make all the decisions that impact especially low income people’s lives. What the federal government does about trade with China is pretty remote.”
That sentiment was echoed by John Adams, director of the Beacon. He said this event was a great opportunity for people experiencing poverty to “change policy.”
“There are a lot of barriers, policy-wise, that sometimes hinder people’s progress. Having an event like this at the Beacon gives people a voice, and your vote counts in helping implement the changes in policy that is needed,” Adams said.
The turnout of people experiencing poverty has historically been affected by not having adequate access to resources.
“A event like this gives a voice to the voiceless. People usually don't have these opportunities. There are some barriers that stop people from voting. We’re bringing the registration here to help some of those people who don’t have a voice,” Adams said.
The Beacon provides services that assist the homeless in their daily lives, he said.
“The Beacon has eliminated the need for transportation. We’re located right across the street from the Salvation Army. We’re also a couple blocks from the men’s shelter. This gives people the access to resources. In the past, you would have to catch six buses to get to these places,” Adams said.
According to McDonell, changes to voting laws in past years is why events like these are needed.
“We need events like this. A big reason is that Republicans have changed the elections laws to make it harder for people to register to vote,” McDonell said.
Adams believes that some people don’t get the opportunity to have their voices heard, and wants to see this event continue to give them that opportunity.
“I want to see the event continue, because I’m a big advocate of giving people a voice and listening to the voiceless. Sometimes we don’t understand their struggles, and when we give them an opportunity to vote it gives us the opportunity to change and better serve them,” Adams said.
The Cap Times tried to speak with several people who registered to vote at the Beacon, but they were uncomfortable speaking to a reporter.