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Adventures in Voter Registration

Today is the deadline for Californians  to register to vote.  This year, for the first time ever, Californians can register to vote online!  Online voter registration is great, because the online form is much simpler to access and to use than the paper form.   But what about people who don’t have access to computers?  We’re lucky to have our Tenderloin Technology Lab, a partnership between St. Anthony’s and Network Ministries, which provides free computer access and training to more than 1,000 homeless and low income people each year.  Our Tech Lab is so important because it allows people who wouldn’t usually have access to them to use computers to connect with loved ones, access services, learn employment skills, and even to register to vote.

We’ve also been reaching out to our guests the old fashioned way, by going to our programs with paper registration forms and asking our guests if they’d like to register.  We have been reaching out to our Dining Room guests while they wait in line for a meal, offering them information about voter registration and the chance to register.  Many of our guests are homeless, and some of our homeless guests are confused about how to register to vote.  The good news is that you don’t need a street address in order to be able to vote.  The California voter registration form allows people to describe where they live (using cross streets, for example) if they don’t have a residential address.  Homeless people can use a P.O. Box, General Delivery, or the address of a social service provider that accepts mail for them as their mailing address.

As a non-profit social service organization, St. Anthony’s participates only in non-partisan voter registration and education activities.  We never encourage our guests to vote for one candidate instead of another.  We do help people who may not otherwise have the opportunity to register to vote so that their voice, no matter who they’re voting for or where they sit on the political spectrum, is heard.

My favorite voter registration moment this year occurred about a month ago in our Dining Room waiting room.  A lady who was waiting in line for lunch saw me at the voter registration table and sat down.  She asked for a registration form and a pen, and then took a bottle of purple nail polish out of her pocket.  She painted her nails while filling out the form and singing a rousing version of Prince’s “Purple Rain”.   I was grateful for the concert and I’m glad that she will have the opportunity to vote on November 6.

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