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How To Vote If You Are Experiencing Homelessness In Washoe County

A sign with an American flag that says, “Vote here/Vote aquí,” stuck into the grass next to a tree. The background is out of focus.
Trevor Bexon

Lee en español.

Lawmakers in Nevada approved a bill to send every registered voter in the state an absentee ballot ahead of the 2020 election. However, where will one’s ballot be sent if they are experiencing homelessness? KUNR’s Lucia Starbuck talked to Heather Carmen, the Assistant Registrar of Voters for Washoe County, about how to send and receive a ballot if you don’t have stable housing or an address.

Lucia Starbuck: How will mail-in-ballots work in Washoe County this election?

Heather Carmen: All active voters will receive a mail-in-ballot, and they have the option of casting that by filling it out and mailing it back to our office, putting it in a drop-off location that we’ll have throughout Washoe County, dropping it off at an in-person place, or they can surrender it and vote on one of the tablets at locations because we will have early voting and election day.

Starbuck: If someone doesn’t have stable housing or an address, how will they receive an absentee ballot?

Carmen: That’s a little bit harder because then they don’t have an address that we can mail to unless they set up a general delivery service account, which I believe they can at a post office that’s close to where they may lay their head down at night. If we don’t have an address to mail something to them, they could come into our office and we can issue them a paper ballot over the counter, and then they can appear in person at one of the polling locations and vote in person.

The Tom Vetica Resource Center located within the Community Assistance Center on 335 Record Street provides free services to individuals experiencing homelessness including receiving mail.

Starbuck: For registering to vote, if someone doesn’t have an address or utilize shelter services, can they use a cross street?

Carmen: For those individuals that don’t stay in a shelter or sleep somewhere else, maybe in their car or something, we can get them registered if they provide us with the four corners of where they stay.

Starbuck: Even though there is an eviction moratorium, I know that some folks have lost their homes. What should they do if their voter registration has their old address on it?

Carmen: If they have their old address on there it’s okay by law to vote in your old precinct one more time. You can change your address at a later date, or if they want to they can update their voter registration information now if they have a new address where they’re residing. There’s also same-day registration, however, they need to have a current and valid Nevada ID or driver’s license if they appear at a polling location and want to update their address. With people losing their housing, that should not affect their ability to still be able to cast a ballot.

Starbuck: What happens if a ballot is mailed to someone’s old address?

Carmen: If it’s mailed to their old address and they did put in a change of address with the postal system, it won’t get to them, it’ll come back to us. If by chance they didn’t, and it actually is there, and someone in that household goes, ‘Oh look, I have a ballot for Bob Smith, I’m just going to go ahead and vote it and turn it back in,’ the probability of them actually matching that person’s signature is probably slim to none. So it would end up getting challenged. We would reach out to that person and if they don’t rectify it by showing identification or contact us, then that ballot will never get cast.

Starbuck: For someone who is unsheltered and trying to navigate this election, what advice do you have?

Carmen: If they’re able to they can always call us. They can come down to our office and ask, ‘How do I get registered?’ We can help them figure out their options on how to cast their ballot because everybody has a different situation. If they can reach out to us, we can definitely help them with their specific circumstances. That’s what I would do if I was in-between housing or had to be in a shelter, but I wanted to make sure that I was able to voice my vote in this election.

Lucia Starbuck is a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project.

For more information on voting in the 2020 Election in Washoe County click here

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Lucia Starbuck is an award-winning journalist covering politics, focusing on democracy and solutions for KUNR Public Radio. Her goal is to provide helpful and informative coverage for everyday Nevadans.
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