Before we begin the mayhem of Thanksgiving and Christmas, we are thick in the middle of election season. In fact, it’s election week. The one time a year we get to come together as a community 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. Local and state elections have a powerful 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 day in and day out.
Why are we talking about voting here at the Dream Center? Our local politicians, both on a city and state level, have a lot to do with how the homeless and impoverished are treated in our community. 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. As previously discussed, getting an ID can be hard for the homeless. But the bottom line is they can vote, IF provided with adequate information.
Unfortunately, voter suppression is a real thing. There are many ways in which this can sneak under the radar. 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.
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.
The United States has many flaws in the governmental and electoral 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.
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 changes drastically.
Today is election day. 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.
We know it can be hard to get to the polls. We know that you may have small children that could cause a scene, and we 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. Your civic duty is too important to ignore, now and every year.
– 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