A federal judge recently ruled that homeless individuals in Ohio must be allowed to vote, even though every state in the country, Ohio included, requires a permanent address as part of registration. To reconcile this impossibility, registrations will be filed using park benches, grates, or any other area upon which a homeless individuals may sleep.
First of all, the main point to take from this is that there a lot of homeless people in our country, and they have been ignored for a long time. Their numbers are growing and increasingly include the employed, single working parents, and economically distressed families. They have been largely ignored by the media and the ongoing political campaigns. If the measure of a society is how it treats its most vulnerable, then we are failing as we have never failed before.
That being said, there are further implications of this piece of news:
1. The address requirement seems fundamentally discriminatory. Most news on this point has centered on foreclosures, but the homeless have always been a population excluded from voting due to their lack of permanent addresses.
2. Are there states in which the homeless cannot vote? If it took a court ruling to ensure this right in Ohio, would it take one in every other state to ensure this right?
3. And if you accept the premise that address requirements (however practical) are discriminatory, then this just adds fuel to the argument that our current mish-mash of state policies is fundamentally flawed and possibly even unconstitutional. Would a lawsuit brought by a homeless individual who can’t register to vote in a particular state significantly challenge our current system of elections? And could such a ruling prompt nationwide standards mandated either by the court system or by the Congress?
I would love to see consistent and non-discriminatory voting standards for every level of the electoral process. Today’s registration and electoral requirements seem innocuous at first, but examining their effects (for example Voter ID laws that fall particularly hard on the poor and elderly) reveals a series of devious modern literacy tests. It’s high time that we reformed and equalized voting, and as evidenced by the news clip above, we should probably start with the homeless.