The number of homeless people has been increasing across the Kansas City metropolitan area, including in the Liberty Public School District, where voters will decide whether to approve a 43-cent education property tax increase.
Even if homeless citizens manage to find transportation to make it to the polls, they may find themselves effectively disenfranchised. Voters in Clay County must have identification and an address, which many homeless people lack. Although the state of Missouri’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has an official charged with enforcing educational rights of homeless children, there is no such official overseeing rights of homeless voters. However, the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 forbids such discrimination.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but even people who don’t own property are entitled to vote on a property tax issue. In the United States, there hasn’t been a requirement for property ownership to be eligible to vote since 1850. Although homeless people may wish to vote on an issue affecting the quality of education their children receive, a modern version of the now-illegal property ownership requirement may keep them from the polls. If they don’t have a place to live, how can they prove they are district residents? Even if they did manage to register, how can they receive voter registration cards without a mailing address?
When thinking of homelessness, suburbs do not always come to mind. Last June, though, the Liberty School District’s board of Education had to amend its budget, adding an additional $60,000 for transportation of homeless students. According to federal law, homeless parents are entitled to send their children to school in the district where they last had an address. They may not be staying in that district anymore, but districts are required to provide transportation for these homeless students. Many arrive each morning by taxi cab.
In addition to being eligible to enroll their children in the Liberty School District, homeless parents may be entitled to vote there as well. According to the Clay County Board of Election Commissioners website, an address is required to prove residence when registering to vote. However, in a talk last month before the Northland Democratic Club, Clay County board of elections Democratic party director Patty Evans said that if homeless people want to vote, they have that right. Unfortunately on the election commission’s website, there is no information about how this is possible. Rather, the website specifies that voters need mailing addresses in order to register:
“If a resident of the county registers at the Clay County Election Board, a local license bureau or at another site designated by the Election Board they must present a valid Missouri driver’s license or other form of personal identification. Once the registration is received and processed the office will send a voter identification card. If a resident registers by mailing in a voter registration application, the office will send a verification letter.”
In other words, homeless citizens have the right to vote, but the system requires them to have an address in order to do so.
All registered voters in the Liberty School District may vote today on the property tax issue. Polls will open at 6 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. For more voting information, contact the Clay County Board of Elections.
If approved, the tax levy would increase property taxes of home owners in the district. Liberty would use $41 million of the additional revenue to construct a new elementary school, complete construction of Liberty North High School and add classroom space at Liberty High School as well as a new stadium.
For more information on voting rights in Missouri: http://www.sos.mo.gov/elections/
For more information from the U.S. Justice Department’s Voting Rights Section: http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/vot/sec_2/about_sec2.php
The National Coalition for the Homeless Voter Rights Packet: http://www.nationalhomeless.org/projects/vote/Manual_2011.pdf
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