Can Unhoused People Vote?

Voter ID rules and requirements can be confusing to navigate. VoteRiders is here to help! This post is part of our series addressing some of the most common questions and challenges related to voter ID laws. 

Unhoused citizens in all states have the right to register and vote. 

However, people who experience homelessness (or citizens who are unhoused or houseless) can face additional hurdles when exercising their right to vote. Despite their eligibility, research shows that less than 10% of people experiencing homelessness vote because of challenges related to cost, transportation, physical and health limitations, and more.

In this blog post, we delve into crucial questions and topics like:

➜   Can unhoused people vote?
   How do unhoused people vote?
   How to register to vote as an unhoused person
   How to cast your ballot if you are unhoused or houseless 



How do unhoused people vote?

In order to vote, a person – whether experiencing homelessness or not – must register to do so.

Registering to Vote as an Unhoused Person

Registering to vote as an unhoused person can be challenging. Here are some general steps to help guide you through the voter registration process:

➜   Check registration: To begin, be sure to check your voter registration status either online or by contacting your local election official. 

If you are not registered, or your registration is not up to date, then follow the steps below.

➜   Get the correct identification: You may need identification to complete the registration process. Find out what ID your state requires by visiting VoteRiders.

When registering to vote in a state for the first time, the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) requires citizens who register in person or by mail to provide a driver’s license or state ID number or the last four digits of their Social Security number on their voter registration form. If you do not have one of these numbers, you will be assigned a voter ID number once your registration is approved. You will also be required to show another form of ID the first time you vote.


How do you vote if you have no fixed address?

One of the biggest challenges that unhoused people face is their lack of fixed address or permanent residence address. 

Typically, most states require people registering to vote to provide a mailing address where voter registration cards and election-related materials can be sent. Given this requirement, many unhoused people incorrectly believe they cannot vote.

What should be listed as my residence address?

When it comes to listing an address for voting registration purposes, people experiencing homelessness can:

➜   List the address of a shelter or other landmark: Many states allow unhoused people to list a shelter or even a landmark like a park or intersection as their primary residence.

➜   List the address of the place where one accepts mail: Instead of listing the address of a home, unhoused people may be able to list the address of anywhere willing to accept mail on the voter’s behalf, such as an advocacy organization or shelter.

➜   List the address of an official office: Some states, like Arizona and Nebraska, allow unhoused people to use county courthouses or county clerks’ offices as their mailing addresses to register to vote.

➜   List a P.O. box address: Some states will allow registrants to use a P.O. box as a mailing address to register to vote.

➜   Other options: Some states (like Iowa) allow you to declare residence in a precinct by describing on the voter registration form a place to which the person often returns. In other states (like Nebraska), the person’s county is considered their place of residence, and no further address is required.


What do I do if I’m in-between housing?

One of the challenges that unhoused people often face is moving frequently. 

Whether you move within your state or out of the state, be sure to:

➜   Check registration deadlines: Each state or county has specific deadlines by when you must update your voter registration to be eligible to vote in upcoming elections.

➜   Register at your new address: Visit the official website of your state’s election authority to see if you are eligible to register online or to access a copy of the voter registration form. Alternatively, you can often pick up a voter registration form from a local election office, public library, public assistance agency, or post office and return it in person or by mail. You can also register using the National Mail Voter Registration Form; if you live in Arizona, we recommend using your state’s form.

➜   List the address of the place where one accepts mail: Instead of listing the address of a home, unhoused people may be able to list the address of anywhere willing to accept mail on the voter’s behalf, such as an advocacy organization or shelter.

➜   Complete the form: Fill out the voter registration form with your new address and any other required information, such as your name, date of birth, and contact details.

➜   Provide identification, if required: Check the specific identification requirements for your state and include the necessary ID information or documentation with your registration form.

➜   Verify your registration: After submitting the updated voter registration form, check your voter registration status to confirm that your information has been successfully updated.


What happens if you don’t have an ID?

First, check to see if your state requires ID to vote. 

States may require or request:

➜   A form of photo identification: Some states require that your proof of identification includes a photo like a U.S. passport or driver’s license.

➜   Non-photo identification: Some states allow the use of a no-photo ID like a utility bill or bank statement.

➜   No ID: Some states do not require ID in order to cast a ballot.

Some states provide a free state ID card to use to vote or a free Voter ID card which can be used only for voting. 

However, each state is different:

Strict voter ID laws: In some states, voters must confirm their identity with an acceptable ID when voting in person or their ballot will not be counted. In some states, the only ID that is acceptable is a photo ID. In other strict states, non-photo IDs are accepted.

➜   Examples of states with strict voter ID laws include: 

Non-strict voter ID laws: In some states, if voters don’t provide an acceptable ID when voting in person, there are other ways to cast a ballot that counts:

➜   Signing a form (a sworn statement)

➜   Voting with a provisional ballot

➜   Voting with a voter registration certificate or another government document (with name, mailing address, and “reasonable impediment” declaration)

➜   Examples of states with non-strict voter ID laws include: 

No voter ID laws: In twelve states and the District of Columbia (D.C.), most voters don’t need to show ID to vote in person, except for some first-time voters.

For first-time voters, acceptable IDs include:

➜   ID card issued by any state 

➜   Military ID card 

➜   Public housing ID card 

➜   Government check 

➜   Identification documents issued by government homeless shelters and other government temporary or transitional facilities

➜   Examples of states with no voter ID laws include: 


Going to the polls as an unhoused person

Going to the polls as a person who is experiencing homelessness can present some unique challenges, but it is still important for unhoused citizens to exercise their right to vote. 

In general, unhoused people might experience one or many of the following challenges:

➜   Lack of personal vehicle: Unhoused voters may lack a personal vehicle, making it difficult for them to travel to polling places.

➜   Limited public transportation: There may be limited public transportation in certain areas, and/or the cost of public transportation may be a barrier for those who have limited financial resources.

➜   Limited knowledge of polling stations: Unhoused voters may not be aware of the specific locations of polling places or the resources available to help them get there.

➜   Voter suppression and discrimination: Unhoused voters may face discrimination or challenges at the polls, including being turned away or having their eligibility questioned due to their housing status.



Get help with VoteRiders

VoteRiders frequently works with unhoused individuals to help them obtain ID for voting and accessing other essential services, including providing free transportation to and from ID-issuing offices and paying for IDs and required underlying documents. 

Contact VoteRiders today for assistance!