Recently, Kentucky has seen a rise in the number of voter registration forms submitted by homeless individuals. As a result, State Board of Elections Executive Director Sarah Ball Johnson wrote a memo to the state’s county clerks, instructing them to approve all voter registration applications from people who are homeless–even if clerks can’t verify the address on the form.

Although the policy has been in place since 1998, Johnson felt it necessary to clarify the rules for the many newly elected county clerks, some of whom had expressed concern about possible voter fraud. The current policy accepts “homeless” or “place to place” in the address field, however, Republican Secretary of State candidate Bill Johnson said he will either file an ethics complaint or motion in court to require that voters provide an identifiable location.

Despite being homeless, “Those people still have the right and also the responsibility in our country to vote,” said David Hammers, who runs a mission in Covington. Moreover, local homeless advocates point out that the homeless are no more likely to commit voter fraud than any other person.

While asking individuals to list an intersection, park, or the address of a shelter is unlikely to be overly burdensome, it is nevertheless important to ensure that policies do not create registration barriers. Being homeless is challenging enough, and registering to vote shouldn’t be another hardship. As with other marginalized groups, voting is an important act that can foster a sense of belonging within the community and allow individuals facing hardship to make a difference. The Veteran’s Party of America has a chart that breaks down the state-by-state policies on homeless registration.

Although no one can say exactly how many homeless registrations have been received, it is possible that someone–perhaps a nonprofit organization–is communicating with the homeless community about the importance of registering to vote. Want to incorporate conversations about voting and elections into your nonprofit’s work? Visit our website for information and materials to help get started!

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