Wednesday, Sep 20, 2017
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Politics

Advocates to register homeless as voters

A group of advocates for the homeless is working to register those in shelters and on the streets and bring them to the polls to take advantage of the state s early voting.

A lot of the homeless are so disenfranchised and so far from the system that they really think they don t matter, said Ken Leslie, founder of 1Matters.

Mr. Leslie said he hopes to bring at least 500 homeless individuals and volunteers to vote this year during the annual Tent City homeless awareness event, which runs Oct. 31 through Nov. 2 in downtown Toledo. Many of the homeless will gather in one place for Tent City, Mr. Leslie said, so his group plans to arrange transportation to take them to the polls.

Homeless people can vote legally and use a shelter as their address, said Jeff Ortega, spokesman for the Ohio Secretary of State. Absentee balloting and in-person early voting begins Sept. 30 and runs through the day before the election.

Mr. Leslie said he wants to eliminate any barriers that could keep the homeless from voting by making sure they are registered and have identification.

Lisa Ward, who also is working on the get-out-the-vote effort, said voter education is an important component, with a candidates night planned for Tent City. She also is trying to gather print material about candidates and issues to distribute as well.

Ms. Ward, who has several politics-related blogs, including Glass City Jungle and Liberal Common Sense, said the effort is not designed to push or support any particular candidate or issue.

This is totally, 100 percent nonpartisan, she said.

She said by taking the homeless in groups to vote early, she hopes they will be able to overcome any problems or questions that might come up.

What is happening in Toledo is part of a statewide effort, said Brian Davis, executive director of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless.

Mr. Davis said his group has registered the homeless to vote for years, but this year the group is making a push to get people to vote early in person. The coalition aims to get all 2,000 people in shelters in Cleveland registered and taken to vote.

He estimates as many as 80 percent of shelter residents are already registered because of motor-voter laws, or because they are asked if they wish to register when they apply for assistance.

A critical barrier to getting the homeless to vote, however, is the requirement instituted in 2006 that Ohio voters show identification at the polls, Mr. Davis said.

Many homeless people do not have identification, or it doesn t match their [shelter] address, he said. That has a negative impact on homeless people participating in the democratic process. His group is part of a lawsuit filed against the identification requirement.

We want politicians to realize that homeless people do vote, and [the politicians] need to listen to some of their concerns, Mr. Davis said.

Contact Kate Giammarise at: kgiammarise@theblade.comor 419-724-6133.

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