The Coastal Post - November, 1996

Homelessness—

No Address, No Vote

BY D.L.G. FOREST

Ritter House is the home of the homeless in Marin County. It is the place where, among many other services, one can, with proper identification, receive mail. Sixteen Ritter Street is a street address and quite literally the permanent address of some several hundred citizens of the United States and more specifically of Marin County. The people who use 16 Ritter Street as an address are just like the people who use any other address in the United States; they are the smart, the stupid, the educated, the ignorant, the wise and unwise. Some are transient-as are many renters-while some have been in the county for a long, long time. Though they may not be at the moment, many have been homeowners and taxpayers; many will be again. A significant number of them are politically aware, interested, and up-to-date. I am one of those.

I am a good prospect as a voter. I am very intelligent, concerned about the world around me, almost fanatically responsible, alert to new developments-scientific or political or social, and an activist when and where I can be. What more could society want of its voters?

I have been a useful member of society; I was a homeowner for a total of 13 years in Sacramento County, starting with a "fixer" which I improved during the 10 years I owned it to double its value when I sold it so I could upgrade to a classic California bungalow. I owned that, my dream home, for a pitifully short three years before tragedy struck.

I am a responsible citizen; I have been a taxpayer for nearly 30 of my 52 years, excluding my first 14 years and the seven years I spent as a stay-at-home mom. I have been an active volunteer in numerous benevolent and activist organizations here in Marin, in Sacramento, and in Dallas, Texas.

I am politically savvy and have been a political activist, volunteer, and voter always, from the time I was old enough to be allowed the privilege. I have a near-perfect record of voting for the loser, but the important point is, I have a near-perfect record of voting. That I can remember, I have neglected to vote once in the 30 years since I was old enough to register, believing that if you don't use it you could lose it. (A very few other times I didn't vote for reasons beyond my control, but only once has it been due to neglect).

A month or so ago I attempted to register here in Marin. I used the only address I legally have: 16 Ritter Street. I mailed in my registration and waited for my card. I know the issues, know the names and records and beliefs of the local as well as the national politicians. I have lived here since February and plan on making this my new permanent home; it never occurred to me that I wouldn't be allowed to vote.

Eventually I received a note from the Marin County voter registration people; they want a "real" address. I was stunned by this news. Apparently, a person who doesn't understand the language spoken by the politicians is allowed to vote (witness the dual-language ballots), while a lifelong U.S. citizen is not-if bad luck and someone else's greed or thoughtlessness has taken their home. I told a friend-another homeless person, this one with a degree in physics from UC Santa Cruz. He had a different story than mine; he is allowed to vote because he illegally used the address of a friend to register. Since learning that, I have considered doing the same; but so far I haven't had the nerve to ask any friend to aid my lie.

So: homeless people can vote if they are dishonest, but not if they are truthful. That's the trick; just lie! I find this appalling. Why must good, otherwise-honest, educated, interested people-sometimes the most needful of these privileges and, thus, the most needful of voting on them-be required to lie to take advantage of their constitutional right to vote?

Tell me, you bright, educated folk of Marin: What's wrong with this picture?

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