Representative Nikema Williams (GA-05) introduced a comprehensive voting rights legislation package on August 25 that includes two NLIHC-endorsed bills to promote voter participation among unhoused voters and federally assisted renters. The introduction of the package coincided with the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, a landmark event in the movement to enact civil rights legislation like the “Voting Rights Act of 1965” and the “Fair Housing Act of 1968.” The package includes the NLIHC-endorsed “Unhoused Voter Opportunity Through Elections Act” (Unhoused VOTE Act) (H.R. 5294) and the “Voters on the Move Registration Act” (H.R. 5290).
The Unhoused VOTE Act affirms that no person may be denied the right to vote because they do not have a traditional home. The bill requires that election officials in jurisdictions with ballot drop boxes consult with service providers to consider accessibility to unhoused people when determining the location, number, and operating hours of drop boxes. In states that require voters to show proof of residence, election officials must accept individuals’ written attestation of their residence, signed under penalty of perjury. The bill also requires that states treat any documents issued by an entity of the criminal justice system as fulfilling voter ID requirements.
The Unhoused VOTE Act would require states to allow an individual residing in a homeless shelter to use the shelter as their residence for the purpose of voting in federal elections. Chief state election officials must ensure that each election official’s public website includes an accessible, clear, and separate hyperlink with simple information on how unhoused individuals may register and vote in federal elections held in the state. States and political subdivisions that are required to provide voting materials in a language other than English, in accordance with Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act, must also publish information for unhoused voters in that language. Chief state election officials must also send a notification of the voter registration deadline to each homeless shelter in the state, as well as local social services agencies that commonly serve unhoused individuals, at least 60 days prior to the voter registration deadline for any federal election in that state, and to send a notice at least 30 days prior to any federal election.
The bill requires the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) and U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) to develop best practices for election officials to facilitate unhoused citizens’ voter registration and participation. When developing these best practices, the EAC must consult with individuals who have experienced homelessness and with local shelters and agencies that serve unhoused individuals.
The Unhoused VOTE Act also amends the “National Voter Registration Act of 1993” to treat emergency shelters as voter registration agencies, which are required to distribute voter registration forms, offer assistance with voter registration applications, and accept completed forms for transmittal to state election officials. The bill clarifies that unsheltered individuals may register to vote with their street location as their place of residence, which establishes their eligibility to vote in the jurisdictions in which they reside. The bill also requires that recipients of HUD homeless assistance funding collect information on the extent to which individuals experiencing homelessness are able to register and vote in federal elections through their homeless management information systems (HMIS).
Finally, the bill creates an EAC grant program to support state and local governments’ activities that facilitate access to voting for individuals experiencing homelessness. To qualify for grant funding, applicants must have a plan to engage stakeholders with experience serving unhoused individuals and must ensure that any documents for unhoused individuals will remain readable and usable even if subjected to extended outdoor exposure.
The Unhoused VOTE Act is endorsed by NLIHC and a coalition of more than 100 housing and homelessness, voting rights, civil rights, faith-based, and other organizations. The bill has 45 original cosponsors in the U.S. House of Representatives. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) is expected to introduce a companion bill in the U.S. Senate.
The “Voters on the Move Registration Act of 2023” requires the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the EAC to develop a uniform statement with information on voter registration and voting rights, which will be made available to residents of public and federally assisted housing. The statement must be translated into the 10 languages most commonly spoken by individuals with limited English proficiency, and all translated versions must be made publicly available on the CFPB website. Public housing agencies (PHAs) and owners of federally assisted properties must provide a copy of the uniform statement when residents sign their leases or fill out income verification forms, and owners of properties with federally backed multifamily mortgage loans must provide a copy to renters at the time that their lease is signed. PHAs must provide a copy of the statement to Housing Choice Voucher holders when their voucher is issued and when they are given an income verification form. A creditor that receives an application for a residential mortgage loan must also provide a copy of the uniform statement to the loan applicant within five days of receiving the application.
The bill has 53 original cosponsors in the U.S. House of Representatives. Senator Reverend Raphael Warnock introduced a companion bill in the U.S. Senate in the 117th Congress (see Memo, 6/1/21).
The Unhoused VOTE Act and Voters on the Move Registration Act of 2023 are closely aligned with the mission of NLIHC’s Our Homes, Our Votes campaign, a nonpartisan initiative to boost voter turnout among low-income renters and educate candidates about housing solutions. Renters consistently register and turn out to vote at lower rates than homeowners, in part because they move more frequently than homeowners and must re-register to vote at their new address (see Memo, 5/15). Voter turnout disparities are even greater between low-income citizens and high-income citizens, largely due to obstacles such as voter identification requirements, transportation barriers, and inflexible schedules. Closing the voter turnout gap is essential to building the political will for housing solutions that serve the lowest-income people. To achieve this goal, the Our Homes, Our Votes campaign provides resources and trainings that equip advocates, tenant leaders, and service providers to register, educate, and mobilize low-income renters and unhoused people to vote.
For more information on the Our Homes, Our Votes campaign, visit: https://www.ourhomes-ourvotes.org/
Find Representative Williams’s press release on the comprehensive voting rights package here.