It’s that time of year again! The holidays? No! (Well, yes. But not only!) I’m talking about election season! This is the one time a year we get to come together as a town, city, state, and country, to make our voices heard and show what we will stand for and what we will not stand for.
Voting may not seem like a big deal; in fact the majority of our population who votes at all, votes only in presidential elections. We are throwing away our constitutional rights when we do this my friends! Local and state elections have so much more effect on our everyday lives than the elections that come around every 4 years. Yes, those every-4-year elections are important, but the reality is that the President doesn’t have much to do with us.
Why are we talking about voting? Our local politicians, both on a city and state level, have a lot to do with how the homeless get treated in our cities. Do we put money into social programs, or do we allocate it elsewhere? If we care about ending homelessness, the people we elect to run our cities need to hear about it. We need to vote people into office who will make it part of their goal to eradicate the suffering of those who need a hand up in life, so that we can all walk safer, cleaner, more positive streets. Ending homelessness doesn’t just benefit the homeless; it benefits society. When someone has a safe place for themselves and their children to sleep and a job with a steady, livable income, they don’t have to resort to any means necessary for survival. They don’t have to turn to crime in order to make it. Fewer people committing crimes means fewer victims. Literally everyone wins!
But we have to get involved to make this happen. We have to make sure that we’re putting people into elected positions that represent our values and want to make the city a better place for everyone. This begs the question: can the homeless vote?
The short answer is yes. On a voter registration form, homeless people can enter an address of a shelter where they stay. They can even describe an area where they sleep, like “park bench at the crossroads of Tryon Rd. and Tyvola Rd.” Wherever they “physically live” is what goes in the address slot, and beyond that they just need their name and a birth date. You do also have to provide some sort of ID; a license or state ID, a bill or official mail with your name and address, something along those lines. Getting ID can be hard for the homeless, But the bottom line is they can vote, IF provided with adequate information. Who is making sure that disenfranchised people get to the polls? Who wants their votes and therefore is promising to make life better for them? Are there forces at play trying to prevent the homeless and other low-income, minority voters from casting their ballot?
Again, the answer is yes. Voter suppression is a real thing. There are many ways in which this can sneak under the radar, and one that may have crossed your radar is gerrymandering. North Carolina was recently in the news for this, because the way our districts have been drawn out was deemed extremely unfair. Gerrymandering is basically a way of determining districts based on who you want in power. So if you know that one area has primarily people of color, and historically people of color tend to vote for Democrats, you split that area up and portion it off into the surrounding areas, so that more of the vote goes towards Republicans. Our state is currently trying to work through this and find a fair map, but elections happen regardless, so we have to work with what we’ve got and put people in office who will represent all constituents fairly, no matter which party they come from. If you’re still a little confused about gerrymandering, here’s a good short youtube video to explain how it works. It’s worth your 2 minutes and 41 seconds.
Another method of voter suppression which is both legal and sneaky, is changing when people can vote. Early voting is a great way to get people to the polls because it makes it available to everyone and lessens wait time on Election Day. Our state congress passed a law recently to lengthen our election day in all branches, and because of this, we’re losing some early voting locations because all counties don’t have the full budget needed to maintain them. Again, this primarily affects the low-income and people of color, who work several jobs and can’t afford to take time off to vote. After business hours and on weekends are a good time to get everyone in to have their voice heard, but parties in power don’t always want a change to the status quo.
Voter ID laws are another way that those in power can make it harder for people to get out and vote. The language alone of having someone show ID to vote seems harmless at first, but in reality it’s yet another method of keeping people who tend to vote a certain way out of the polling booth. For more on why these laws are controversial, check out this short video.
Purging voter registries sounds absurd when we think about it, but it is so common these days! Disguised as a deed for the greater good, lawmakers lately have been purging voters from registries that haven’t been to the polls recently or ever. A “use it or lose it” mindset, that frankly isn’t constitutional.
In North Dakota, a controversial voter ID law, combined with the usage of a PO Box as an address, is barring Native Americans from heading to the polls. Let’s take a closer look at that: Native Americans typically live on reservations because white colonizers brutally destroyed their lives and kicked them off of their ancestral homelands. They then forced them to assimilate by taking their children and putting them in far away English boarding schools, cutting their hair, and compelling them to forget their native languages. Relatively recently in history, they were offered a smidgeon of reparations in the form of reservations, and now we’re telling them they can’t vote because they live on those reservations where we put them, and not at a conventional street address. What. in. the. World. (For more on the history and current life of Native Americans, check out this great book and more by its author.)
No political party in the history of our country (or any country) can be called blameless. Up until President Lincoln shook things up, most of our presidents were unashamedly ok with slavery. So we’ve got several million flaws in the system, and voter suppression is one of them. This matters because it typically hinges on suppressing the vote of low income people and/or people of color. These two categories frequently intersect. According to recent data, “1 in 6 older black people have been homeless at some point in their life.”
If this subset of the population (minority low income, and not the middle and upper class white people who live in the good parts of town) were able to freely and easily get to the polls, studies show that they would vote for candidates that push for social reforms and programs, healthcare, higher wages, and overall equality. These are typically Democrats, and that poses a problem for Republicans who are (as of now) the party in power. They don’t want these people showing up to the polls so they’re making efforts in our state and across the country to keep folks home and disenfranchised.
This relates to homelessness because it is already hard for homeless people to get a job/house/ID. If autonomy in voting, the cornerstone of democracy, is taken from a group of people (especially people of color who’ve experienced far less time even having the right to vote than others) then it isn’t a true democracy, it’s rule by a specific party who is only enacting the will of those exactly like them. There isn’t true representation of the people.
In a count from January 2017, there were over 550,000 homeless people in our country. In Charlotte during that count there were over 1,400 people, a number which was expected to rise in 2018. That’s a lot of people who need to be able to have their voice heard. Voting needs to be made easy on people, not hard. It’s the right of every citizen, and if we follow that up with more criteria, then the nature of our country and our democracy changes drastically.
November 6th is election day. Early voting has already begun in North Carolina, and ends Saturday November 3rd. Your vote matters in giving agency and power to the right people, and the failure to exercise that right gives power to the wrong people.
We’ve listed some voting facts below. Do research to find out who you want representing you and who will represent everyone in their district well. Make sure that the party that you generally prefer is doing right by you and by the people. Find out who is accepting money from which big donors and corporations, and think about how that will affect their time in office. Will they care about us with our one vote? Or will they care about a company whose only interest is gaining more money?
I know it can be hard to get to the polls. I know that you may have small children that could cause a scene, and I know that you may have long work hours or you may not feel like any candidate fully represents your wishes and goals. But it’s up to us to put in office the people who we feel most aligned with, and then we don’t stop! We keep up with what they’re doing and if they stray from what they said they’ll do, if there’s an issue that you feel they aren’t addressing well, you get them on the phone! They exist because we put them in office and they are public servants. It’s their job to listen to their constituents when we call in, send a letter, or write an email. So even if your kid will pitch a massive fit, they need to see you voting and taking charge. Everyone else will be fine even if they witness a child being a child in public. Even if you just ran in from the gym, people can deal with a little sweat. Your civic duty is too important to ignore, now and every year.
We’ll leave you with these excerpts from a 2016 decision in the US Court of Appeals regarding North Carolina voting rights:
Ten cases ended in judicial decisions finding that electoral schemes in counties and municipalities across the state had the effect of discriminating against minority voters.
There the Supreme Court affirmed findings by the district court that each challenged district exhibited “racially polarized voting,” and held that “the legacy of official discrimination in voting matters, education,housing, employment, and health services . . . acted in concert with the multimember districting scheme to impair the ability” of African American voters to “participate equally in the political process.”
And only a few months ago (just weeks before the district court issued its opinion in the case at hand), a three-judge court addressed a redistricting plan adopted by the same General Assembly that enacted SL 2013-381.
The court held that race was the predominant motive in drawing two congressional districts, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause.
The district court failed to take into account these cases and their important takeaway: that state officials continued in their efforts to restrict or dilute African American voting strength well after 1980 and up to the present day.
The State then elaborated on its justification, explaining that “[c]ounties with Sunday voting in 2014 were disproportionately black” and “disproportionately Democratic.” In response,SL 2013-381 did away with one of the two days of Sunday voting. Thus,in what comes as close to a smoking gun as we are likely to see in modern times, the State’s very justification for a challenged statute hinges explicitly on race -- specifically its concern that African Americans, who had overwhelmingly voted for Democrats, had too much access to the franchise.
- You can register AND vote at the same time during the early voting period, and during this time you can also vote at any polling location in your district
- On Election Day (November 6th), you must vote at your assigned polling place, and you must be registered to vote before this day
- You can find a sample ballot at our state Board of Elections site
- You can find out who will be on that ballot and a little bit about them at Ballotready.org
- I Side With is a good voting guide and resource for checking out which candidates align with your priorities
- You have the right to enter the polls with your phone or a written list of the candidates for whom you would like to vote
- You have the right to remain in line and cast your vote after voting hours end, as long as you got in line before the poll closing time
Gerrymandering, Explained. The Washington Post / Youtube.
Voter ID Laws, Frontline PBS / Youtube
America’s Shameful History of Voter Suppression, The Guardian
NC Can Use Gerrymandered Map in November, NPR
Many Native ID’s Won’t Be Accepted at North Dakota Polling Places, NPR
Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians but were Afraid to Ask, Anton Treuer
4th U.S. Circuit judges overturn North Carolina’s voter ID law, News & Observer