The National Alliance to End Homelessness recently connected with partners across the country to learn more about their voting efforts. From responding to the call to action for voter engagement efforts at the Alliance’s Nationwide Townhall
, to addressing racial injustice and voter suppression efforts due to COVID-19, Homeward Greater Richmond Continuum of Care
, LA Family Housing
, and Pathways to Housing DC
stepped up to ensure their clients were registered and encouraged to vote. The Alliance spoke with each of these providers below to learn more about how they have conducted these critical voter engagement efforts.
If your organization is engaging with clients to register or encourage them to vote, please share your efforts using the #EveryOneVotes hashtag and tagging @naehomelessness
on Twitter. Together we can ensure that the voices of people experiencing homelessness is included in this election, and every election thereafter.
What inspired your organization to start voter engagement efforts?
LA Family Housing (LAFH): LA Family Housing saw the spread of inaccurate information and lack of access as direct forms of voter suppression. Coupled with the COVID-19 crisis, our most vulnerable population was not even on the radar for traditional groups outreach efforts, so we decided to take matters into our own hands.
Homeward – Richmond, VA (Homeward): The 2020 Nationwide Town Hall on Ending Homelessness.
Pathways to Housing DC (Pathways): In response to the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, staff members at Pathways to Housing DC created the racial justice work group. Together with their advocacy work group, staff discussed the desire to advance advocacy and to address voter disenfranchisement amongst the homeless population in Washington, DC. From those discussions, the Pathways to Voting campaign was created to ensure that the voices of people experiencing homelessness were included in the voting process and that those voices were advancing critical issues around homelessness and addressing barriers and access to other services.
Does your organization have a history of voter engagement efforts, or is this your first time participating in such efforts?
LAFH: LAFH’s campus has been a polling site for years, to both engage our participants and our community at large. We have also hosted smaller scale voter registration initiatives in past years, but nothing to this scale.
Homeward: We have communicated voting messages in the past but are being more intentional about this. Virginia laws recently changed, making voting more accessible.
Pathways: With every election, Pathways DC has conducted some form of voter engagement, including having voter registration forms available for clients to complete. However, this year we decided to organize our efforts as a campaign and to partner with neighboring organizations.
What was your first step to determine how to conduct voter registration and get out the vote efforts?
LAFH: Asking a lot of questions. With the onset of COVID-19 and the political climate constantly changing, we wanted to make sure we were up to date with the latest recommendations from government and healthcare officials.
Homeward: We reached out to voting advocacy organizations to amplify existing resources.
Pathways: First, we conducted research to determine the deadlines and eligibility requirements. We contacted the DC Board of Elections.
Did you contact the local election office or other organizations that conduct voter engagement to receive assistance?
LAFH: LAFH contacted our local voting registration office with the County of Los Angeles, scheduled trainings with staff and received the necessary materials to implement voter registration events. To become a polling location, we contacted the local County of Los Angeles Registrar’s office.
Pathways: We contacted the DC Board of Elections to determine how to best conduct registration, and whether we needed to formally apply or not to assist people in the registration process. Additionally, we wanted to avoid the mailing process, therefore we appointed a staff point person to pick up forms from the election office and to drop-off completed forms daily. We also confirmed the use of our organization address for people who wanted to use it as a physical residence as well as a mailing address.
From inception to implementation, how long did it take to launch your efforts?
LAFH: Voter registration took about one month to fully launch, that included scheduling and planning nine onsite events, training hundreds of staff and engaging sub-contractors.
Homeward: Approximately 30 days.
Pathways: The total process took close to a month. We wanted to ensure are logistics were planned, from tables to staffing; we also needed to coordinate with our staff about the efforts and develop a social media campaign. Please know that contacting the election office and determining the rules for engaging would be voters did not take a month, there is still time to conduct your efforts if you cannot fully flesh out a campaign.
Are you conducting face to face registration efforts? If so, how has COVID-19 impacted your efforts?
LAFH: Yes, COVID-19 has impacted efforts by putting more strain on staff to ensure we are setting up necessary precautions, for example: designating a large outdoor space to conduct events, because the event is outdoors and we needed pop up canopies and water; more tables and chairs; creating a plan to bring participants to event in smaller quantities; utilizing fewer volunteers; providing PPE; disinfecting pens; etc.
Homeward: We focused on training service providers who work directly with people experiencing homelessness.
Pathways: We are conducting face-to-face registration. COVID has presented its challenges, but we believe in doing this work. We practice safety and social distancing protocols, in addition to providing PPE to staff and volunteers. All clipboards are wiped down after each use, and pens are given to registrants for them to keep. Like most places, our volunteer recruitment and retention are not as high as it normally would be without COVID.
How did you approach your clients about voter registration? How did your clients respond?
LAFH: We did this in a few different ways: We trained all of our staff to engage with participants as they were doing socially distanced intakes, home visits, etc. and hosted 9 in person events. For the events, we put up flyers notifying participants of the opportunity to register to vote and that snacks would be provided. Staff on site prepped and reminded participants of the opportunity, and while on site, volunteers and staff could engage with participants to have really great discussions about why it was important for them to vote, how it effected them, and debunk a lot of myths surrounding voting. For example, many participants thought they were ineligible to vote because of their homeless status, or from being misinformed that because they once had gone to jail, they were ineligible. Staff and volunteers were able to provide them accurate information and facilitate voter registration.
Pathways: We simply pose the question to our clients, “are you registered to vote?” Asking that question allows us to follow-up with registration or in the case of clients who are already registered, do you know where to vote? We must be nonpartisan and in the case of completing forms for clients who need the assistance, and we must ensure staff and volunteers sign attestation forms. We also engage in real conversations with clients about the importance of their voice and vote.
What eligibility and other requirements did your staff have to learn regarding registration and voting?
LAFH: We required all staff and volunteers to attend the virtual training hosted by the County Voter Registration Office, we coupled it with census training, and it was a 1.5-hour training. For onsite events we required they pass a quick COVID-19 screening.
Homeward: Many Virginia laws recently changed, so getting accurate information to partners and people experiencing homelessness was our primary focus.
Pathways: The top two learning curves were the address requirements and felony voter rights. Additionally, the question that asks if a court has found you incompetent to vote was also a place where we had to learn more. We have found that the incompetency question poses a barrier to people completing their registration, due to not understanding the question and/or the stigma around having any type of court interaction. Most people should know that the question applies to limited individuals, and for most clients, it does not apply at all.
If your staff faced issues/hurdles while trying to register clients, what were they? And how did you assist them in overcoming those issues/hurdles?
LAFH: It was challenging for staff who were directly encouraging participants to register to vote because it was one piece to an already complex puzzle of items to discuss with participants. Furthermore, the social distancing guidelines from COVID-19 have limited our ability to interact directly with participants. To overcome this, LAFH hosted a contest for staff, with whoever registered the most participants to vote won a gift card- this helped staff be a little more creative in connecting with participants.
Pathways: Completing the form has legal implications, therefore our volunteers and staff are careful to provide assistance. We consult with the election office surrounding felony right to vote, address requirements, and ensuring that registrants completely fill out and mark each option to diminish any reason to disqualify the form. Additionally, and just recently, DC discontinued its online voter registration form; this has been a challenge.
What is the one thing you wish you would have known/would do differently/would tell other providers about this process?
LAFH: The County shared with us that at each event 2-3% of people would complete registration forms. We did not listen to this and set an overly aggressive goal; we wish we had heeded their recommendation but are proud that we have about a 7% completion rate.
Homeward: Connect with other community-based voter agencies.
Pathways: The effort has not been a huge drain on our resources, it just took a commitment from a handful of truly dedicated staff, our executive leadership, and our board of directors. Additionally, providers should be helpful and able to address literacy issues with clients and have a plan for the shortage of volunteers and staff willing to help. Lastly, avoid the arbitrary numbers goal of registering x amount of people. It is not the quantity of registrants, but the quality of what you are offering. If you can commit to what you can do in 3 weeks, that is a success. You still have time to make a big impact.
Any other information you would like to provide?
Pathways: Because every election is important, moving forward we will be integrating voter registration activities in our daily duties. For instance, the combined application for benefits allows you to select the option to register to vote. We address immediate emergency needs but incorporating these concepts and ideas into their other practices is crucial to our overall success.