Every Vote Counts, Even the Homeless'

Even though the presidential election is over, people still wonder if every American citizen had a fair chance to vote. It's true every citizen has constitutional voting rights; however, voter registration is harder for some citizens than others.

For the approximately 1,500 homeless people in Santa Monica, voting can be a laborious process. Fortunately, there are organizations that help enfranchise homeless people.

The Ocean Park Community Center is a homeless shelter that provides services that help people reintegrate into mainstream society. OPCC provides the homeless with meals, showers, phone calls and voting assistance.

OPCC is required by law to distribute voter registration forms. "They need the option to vote," Kevin Goins, OPCC program manager said. "We did what the law said we had to do." Two to three weeks before the Nov. 4 election, OPCC employees placed registration forms where their patrons could access them, Goins said.

When a person registers to vote, they must provide a mailing address. Homeless people don't have a permanent residence. "Those who didn't have a permanent address could use Ocean Park Community Center as their mailing address," Goins said.

A person's ballot information and polling center location is sent to OPCC, Goins said. "Quite a few people came back to pick up their information. It was pretty successful."

When a person doesn't have an identification card, registering to vote becomes very complicated. "If they don't have an ID and they don't have an address it's kind of difficult," Goins said. "A lot of times you'll find people have lost their IDs."

People stay on record at the California Department of Motor Vehicles for one year after getting a state ID card or driver's license, Goins said. Within that time frame someone can get a replacement relatively easily. A homeless person can get an ID for $7 after OPCC fills out a fee reduction waiver.

If a year has past since their last ID was issued, then they aren't on the DMV records. First, OPCC contacts the hospital where a patron was born to get a birth certificate. Then birth certificate's owner takes it to a Social Security office to get a social security card. With a social security card someone can then get an identification card, Goins said.

"It takes a while and it's time consuming," Goins said. "It's worth it when you're trying to get people established with mainstream society and trying to get them back on their feet."

The Ocean Park Community Center and other shelters make sure every citizen can vote. Next time you move and have to re-register to vote, imagine how hard it would be if you didn't have a residence or an identification card.