The Road to Geneva: The Right to Vote

This is the eighth edition of a blog series (see blog intro) on the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty’s advocacy efforts during the HRC Review of U.S. compliance with the ICCPR. The information in this blog came from the Law Center’s shadow report, Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading.

Homeless people in the U.S. are disproportionately excluded from their constitutional and human right to vote. Laws increasingly disenfranchise homeless people by predicating the ability to vote on photo identification often requiring billing information and housing details that homeless persons simply cannot provide. Additionally identification documents are frequently lost during the frequent moves of homelessness, and once lost, are especially difficult to obtain again without a permanent address. These voting restrictions violate Article 25 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Article 25 guarantees the right to political participation, including the right to vote. The Human Rights Committee (HRC), which oversees ICCPR compliance, has affirmed that states have an obligation to ensure that citizens are able to vote. U.S. advocates like the National Law Center for Homelessness and Poverty and its allies such as the Advocates for Human Rights use international law to ensure that global norms of political participation are upheld around the world.

A recent example of voting restrictions is the Wisconsin voter ID law which the Law Center, together with the ACLU of Wisconsin, challenged in court last year. The law only allowed select forms of identification such as a driver’s license, state ID card, or passport to verify a voter’s identity. Voters also had to produce a utility bill from the past thirty days, pay stub, an account statement from a bank, or mortgage documents. Veteran’s identification, government benefit cards, and state issued IDs were excluded as identification options. The court in the case issued a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the law, but the case continues and the next hearing for this case will happen in November.

The Law Center has done extensive research to prove that such restrictive voting laws targeting homeless people are unnecessary. Our 2008 voting rights report documents states like Oregon that allow homeless people to use descriptors of residency rather than an actual address to register to vote. For instance, a person could identify a park where they live or a shelter where they sleep instead of showing a bill with an address as proof of residence. Such alternatives are essential in upholding the voting rights of homeless individuals.

We learned late last week that the U.S. has received an HRC hearing postponement due to the U.S. government shutdown. The U.S. will now appear before the Committee in March of 2014. Nevertheless, the Law Center and its allies, such as the Advocates for Human Rights (see the Advocates Post), will continue to write and raise awareness about U.S. ICCPR violations and the advocacy efforts leading up to the HRC Review. The Law Center’s Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy fellow will still attend meetings in Geneva this week and advocate on issues of criminalization of homelessness in the U.S. with other U.N. officials. Look forward to blog updates this week about our fellow’s efforts to advocate and fight for the human rights of homeless people in the U.S., such as voting for all, this week in Geneva.

-Kirsten Blume, Program on Human Rights & the Global Economy Fellow

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