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Voting in the United States of America is a fundamental right protected by their constitution, and it extends to people of all races and people without housing. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, African Americans represent 13% of the general population but account for 40% of people experiencing homelessness and more than 50% of homeless families with children. While state and federal laws have eliminated some of the barriers to voting for people experiencing homelessness, other obstacles remain, such as a mailing address as a prerequisite to register to vote.
2020 was a crucial year in the United States. Presidential elections took place amidst harsh social tensions across the country. TrustLaw, the Thomson Reuters Foundation's global pro bono service, wanting to support the racial justice movement taking place in the United States, focused its efforts on access to voting and reached out to the National Homelessness Law Center ("NHLC"). NHLC is the only U.S. organisation dedicated solely to using the power of the law to end and prevent homelessness, and to protect the rights of people experiencing homelessness.
In 2020, the NHLC launched the campaign "You Don't Need a Home to Vote" promoting voting access for low-income and homeless persons. As part of this campaign, and to ensure people experiencing homelessness can fully exercise their right to vote, the NHLC decided to create a practical and user-friendly voting rights guide. Through TrustLaw, the NHLC was connected with pro bono lawyers at Goodwin Procter LLP to create voting rights cards for each of the 50 US states and the District of Columbia, as well as a manual explaining the right to vote.
Carlton L. Martin, Pro Bono Manager at the National Homelessness Law Center, stated that "if the vote gives us a voice, then people experiencing homelessness deserve the right to use their voice—unimpeded. They should not be barred from weighing in on the issues that matter most to them just because they do not have a structure to call home. This 50 State Know Your Voting Rights Project was our way of actively playing a small role in ensuring that the voting rights of the unsheltered were made known and protected during this perilous time."
The Voting Rights Guide, which was disseminated by the NHLC's national network, provided practical guidance on registration and voting. This guide, along with other pro bono initiatives developed to advance racial justice, was presented by the TrustLaw team during the 2020 National Legal Aid and Defender Association conference.
"The Voting Guide for the Homeless will help American citizens living in challenging circumstances to exercise their fundamental right to vote while upholding the principles of fairness and equality that underlie our pro bono program," said Goodwin partners Peter LaVigne and Ira Levy.
"The Thomson Reuters Foundation works to foster more inclusive economies, which are only truly inclusive when they are equitable, participatory and sustainable. In one of the most contested elections in the US, giving access to a fundamental right as voting to people without housing was without question necessary to promote a fair election process," said Nadia Segura, Legal Officer at TrustLaw.