Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Second Court Order On Homeless Voting

Brunner Issues Second Directive On Provisional Ballots

As discussed over the weekend, the Secretary of State issued a second directive to settle (for now) our lawsuit. There were two outstanding issues that were not covered in the directive issued Friday October 24. These issues include: what happens to a provisional ballot if the poll worker does not do their job or incorrectly completes the provisional ballot envelope? Also, what happens to the provisional ballot if a homeless person shows up and is using a non-traditional address like a park bench? The Associated Press and therefore other media have made a big deal out of this second piece, and made this seem like some "scandal" and our attempt to undermine the election. This "controversy" is bunch of people making a mountain out of a mole hill. All we settled on was that the state must uphold an existing law that dates back to Secretary of State Robert Taft. If a homeless person especially in areas that do not have enough shelters (Lorain, Ashtabula, Trumbull Counties), and has taken up residence in a tent or other structure, they should get to vote. These citizens want to vote, and this settlement allows them that opportunity. These voters would have already had to register that tent as a residence before October 6. They would most likely vote by provisional ballot, because their mail would have come back to the Board of Elections. All this settlement says is that those provisional ballots be counted in compliance with existing law.

I have to say that there are couple dozen people in the woods in Lorain County who fought for the United States in Viet Nam. These guys and their opinions about a government at war are effectively silenced without an exception to linking voting to a fixed structure. I raised these problems when the 2006 ID voting law was proposed in the legislature, but the leadership did not listen. Why shouldn't they have the opportunity to vote? I believe that they earned the right after sleeping in the rice fields in Southeast Asia and now the woods of Lorain County to decide who leads this country no matter if they live under a framed roof or not.

As an election observer in 2006, there were many problems with poll worker error and provisional ballots. The polling place I observed had around 34 people voting by provisional ballot and I saw half of those ballots incorrectly filled out by the poll worker. In fact, I think the first 15 did not have the poll worker's signature before they had a supervisor come to the polling place to give them instructions. This settlement clarifies that an individual should be allowed to have their provisional ballot counted even if the poll worker does not process the envelop correctly. This part of the settlement is the more important aspect of the agreement, but has received little attention. This entire settlement prevents a Florida-style "hanging chad" situation of mass confusion in a close election. The park bench provision will only have an impact on a couple of dozen people throughout the state, but the counting of the provisional ballot procedure could be the difference in a close election.

Brian Davis
Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.


smrstrauss said...

You are absolutely right. They should have the right to vote. And that includes people who have lost their homes, or just people who are poor.

It is strange that the matter of a homeless person's right to vote makes news in 2008. And it is strange that a case was even necessary, because the matter has been ruled on before and the finding was just as in this case: that all citizens have the right to vote regardless of whether they have homes.

The case was in 1984 in a federal district court in New York, in which Judge Mary Lowe ordered the Board of Elections of the City of New York to begin registering all potential voters regardless of whether they have homes or not. It actually referred to a park bench in that case too.

I assume, and hope, that New York City has been registering homeless people since then, but why other cities and rural areas have not, I do not know. District Court rulings are not necessarily binding outside the area, but you would think that this case at least would have been known about, and the principle that all citizens have the right to vote accepted.

In any case, here is a letter to the editor which I found in the database of the New York Times that confirms the 1984 case and explains a bit more about it.

New York Times letter to the editor Dec. 4, 1990:

"To the Editor:

I would like to correct two minor errors in your Nov. 17 article about the constitutional rights of a formerly homeless Connecticut convict. You state that last year "a Federal judge in New York ruled that for the purposes of voter registration, a park bench was a home."

Judge Mary Lowe ordered the New York City Board of Elections to enroll homeless voters in October 1984. Homeless New Yorkers thus have been registering and voting, in increasing numbers, for six full election cycles. (A resident of the Fort Washington men's shelter, Tyler Trice, even qualified as an independent candidate for State Assembly on the primary election ballot this fall.)

Further, rather than calling a park bench a home, Judge Lowe ruled that a home, as traditionally conceived, could not be made a prerequisite of the right to vote, which she called a "fundamental right, which is preservative of all other rights in a democracy." To paraphrase, she said, "You don't need a home to vote," which became our motto. WILL DANIEL Director, Homeless Voter '90 New York, Nov. 17, 1990."

I like that part about the right to vote being a fundamental right, which is preservative of all other rights in a democracy. It has a kind of "government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth" ring to it.

pa4mccain said...

This "molehill" is a mountain. The court defined an arbitrary date from which to work from for these registrations. If it was known beforehand in previous legislation, ACORN and other knew about it and used it to their advantage, probably registering several park benches for one person. Voter fraud is rampant because of liberal rulings such as this and the veterans who live in tents did not fight to have our democracy undermined by people who "feel" disenfranchised because they never BOTHERED to vote before.
Poor people have just as much a right to vote as a rich person, arguing otherwise is just being ignorant of the Constitutional rights granted to every American.