Outreach Effort to Register Homeless Voters Shows Depth of Challenge

HomelessVoterReg

Ana De La Torre of Christian Outreach in Action helps to sign up a homeless voter on Aril 28, 2016. Photo by Jason Ruiz.

The City of Long Beach has just over 167,000 active registered voters that can cast ballots in the upcoming June 7 State Primary Election. Much has been made about the low voter turnouts in the city, with this month’s primary elections held in three districts yielding a voter turnout of about 12 percent. 

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An effort today by a local non-profit sought to boost registration for the upcoming election by helping those most marginalized in the city sign up for the ability to cast a ballot.

The Christian Outreach in Action (COA) group provides hot meals twice nearly every day out of the Moore Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church, located on the corner of Third Street and Linden Avenue. And when supplies are available, they also provide access to a food bank two days a week, where the homeless and those struggling to make ends meet can pick up dry goods and other supplies to take home.


 

Thursday’s breakfast was like most others for the COA, with the exception that a voter registration drive was taking place along side the food bank line.

Ana De La Torre, a COA staffer, said that while voter registration is important, for the people COA services it can mean a lot more than being able to walk into a polling station a little over a month from today.

“Everybody needs to have their voice but I think in a way it also empowers the homeless. It lets them know that they are part of society,” De La Torre said. “A lot of the times they feel like they’re excluded when they’re out on the streets. This is our way to let them know that they’re a part of society.”

To help with the process, the COA partnered with the Los Angeles Country Registrar-Recorder Clerk’s Office to help facilitate the sign ups. The city recently partnered with the same office to help streamline the upcoming statewide primary by consolidating the two elections and eliminating “two vote Tuesday” that often times required voters to cast votes at two different polling stations.

Elva Gomez, a community outreach representative with the LA County Clerk’s office, said that a variety of issues present obstacles to getting people signed up to vote. However, her job is to highlight that some of those obstacles—like being homeless and thus lacking a home address—can be overcome. Depending on the state, the homeless can merely describe the park bench or street corner they "rest" at, but others, like California, require a mailing address to determine which precinct they can vote in. 

Some issues, like having a criminal record—felons can’t vote in California while incarcerated—can be sidestepped, so long as the person is off parole. Others, like those who don't have a home address, can be fixed if the applicant is able to use one of the local entities like motels, which allow the homeless to use their address to receive mail. Gomez said in most cases they’re able to find a way to register those who wish to sign up.

“We’ve done events at shelters, and some way or another, they’re able to provide their mailing address” Gomez said. “Maybe they’re not aware that they can register with a mailing address and that’s why they don’t do it, but we’re here to provide training and explain the details of who can vote, how they can register and the information we need from them.”

However, finding those who are willing to give up so much personal information is something that presents a persistent challenge. Gomez said that its often the case, that events like the one held today outside the COA’s food bank will only yield a handful of registrants. Those who did walked away with the ability to vote in future elections, as well as a bright red “LA Vote” tote bag from the LA County Clerk’s office.

Nearly two hours into the three-hour voter drive, Gomez’s count had yet to crack double digits, despite the nearly 200 people that lined up for the COA’s services this morning. But Gomez said 10 out of 200 is actually pretty good, considering some events like today’s yield far less sign ups over the span of several more hours. Her office conducts about three such events per day on average, with a full calendar booked between now and election day.


 

For those who did sign up, Gomez helped guide them through the voter registration sheet, instructing them to fill out the necessary information and advising them on the always polarizing political party affiliation question.

“I’d usually write republican in the past,” one man remarked while filling out his form. “But this year’s a little crazy.”

Gomez noted that California has a semi-closed primary, meaning that a “no party preference” selection would leave you eligible to vote for the Democratic, Independent or Libertarian Parties, but those who opted for no affiliation would have to change their status before May 23, if they wished to cast a vote for the Republican, Green or Peace and Freedom parties.

One of those potential voters, one who identified himself as “Greg G” said it was necessary for him to sign up to ensure the right person is elected to represent Hispanics and the country as a whole.

“If you don’t vote, you don’t have a proper voice,” said G, who’s supporting Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump. “You can debate on the sidewalk all you want.”

Getting people registered is just part of the equation; getting them mobilized and to the polls is the other. De La Torre is hopeful that everyone who signed up to vote will actually make it out to the polls to cast their votes, but she’s realistic and said she’d be happy if at least half ended up following through.

When asked if G could be counted as one of De La Torre’s voter count in June, he responded with a question of his own.

“What’s happening on June 7?” he said. 

 



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