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Wisconsin State Journal: Collaborative effort to help homeless population register to vote

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Madison's homeless resource day center had its first voter registration outreach event Wednesday to increase voter turnout by people who are homeless.

The Beacon, which opened in October 2017 at 615 E. Washington Ave., collaborated with the Dane County Board and the League of Women Voters in Dane County to help homeless people learn how to get a voter ID and register in time for the upcoming election.

The drive was an opportunity for people to get familiar with the voting process and voter laws they might not be aware of.

Wisconsin law requires voters to have a valid Wisconsin state ID or driver's license. Gail Bliss, who works with the league, said voter ID laws can make it difficult for homeless people to vote.

“This new online system works well for people who have IDs and computer access,” she said. “It doesn’t help homeless people because it’s hard to register when you have nothing, which is why we do events like this.”

Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell said voting laws have had a negative impact on homeless voter turnout.

“The complicated nature of that law makes people confused,” he said. “They think if they don’t have the right address on their ID they can’t vote, which isn’t true. The ID is just there to show who you are.”

The Beacon, like other shelters, can give affidavits to people to use as their proof of address to register. McDonell said he hopes the voter drive can help mitigate some of the confusion people may have.

“We’ll do this again in the fall,” he said. “If we can even just get some people thinking about registering to vote and not being intimidated by the equipment, I think the familiarity will help folks feel comfortable voting.”