Molly Matter spent the last two weeks at food banks and shelters with a stack of blank voter registration forms and a pen.
At the Roy Street Shelter on Sept. 26,
Matter registered three people who thought they couldn’t vote either because they did not have home addresses or because they had felony records.
At the Ballard Food Bank the following day, she signed up a 20-year-old Seattle man who intends to vote for the first time this fall.
It takes less than five minutes to fill out the form, but Matter spends much of her time explaining to homeless people that they can register without an address, and to felons that they can restore their right to vote in Washington thanks to a 2009 law.
She weaved through a line of people with shopping carts at the food bank to ask if they were registered and make sure they knew the process.
“The form says ‘residential address,’” Matter said, pointing to a blank slot on the registration form, “but you can put in a cross street, you can put in a park.”
Residents have until Saturday, Oct. 6
to mail in a voter registration form and until Monday, Oct. 8, to register or change an address online at sos.wa.gov/elections.
Parks and registration
People like Matter are working with the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, the Statewide Poverty Action Network (SPAN) and the American Civil Liberties Union to collect registration forms and remind people that they probably can vote, despite what they think.
“A lot of people are intimidated by the political system and the whole voting process,” said Real Change vendor Calvin Turner.
Turner registered to vote before the 2008 election after he learned he could list the Bread of Life Mission, where he stayed, as his residence. Registration doesn’t even require a building number said Katie Blinn, co-director of the state elections office.
“Voter registration is half about the people and half about geography,” Blinn said.
Voters can list a service agency’s address or use general delivery to receive voter identification cards and ballots. Voters just need to indicate a place they call home that can be identified and linked to a precinct, which is the geographical area that determines where people vote.
It can be a park, an intersection, even an alleyway, Blinn said.
One hundred thousand more
Election years are always big for voter registration, said span Executive Director Marcy Bowers. Hoping to draw in more voters, mainstream political groups become interested in organizations like hers.
“Every time there’s a big presidential year, all of a sudden the Democratic Party likes the work we do,” she said. “We’re doing it every year. It’s a longer term strategy than winning the election and taking a break for a couple years.”
But this year is the first presidential election since the state restored voting rights to people with felony records in 2009.
The law allows anyone who is no longer supervised by the Department of Corrections to vote. Previously, anyone with a felony record had to complete every portion of his criminal sentence, including fulfilling community service, paying court fees and even waiting until no-contact orders expired.
The law opened up voting to 100,000 people.
“It’s been amazing how many people are affected by it,” Bowers said.