[Hpn] *Homeless Voting Rights Project of National Coalition for the Homeless
Thu, 28 Sep 2000 16:29:04 -0700 (PDT)
FWD Associated Press - AP Wire Service - Sep 26, 2000
LAW MURKY, BUT OFFICIALS SAY HOMELESS CAN VOTE
By DAVID GRAM
Associated Press Writer
MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) _
Morgan Brown <email@example.com> wants Vermont's mental
health system to ``end its dependency on the use of force and
He wants Vermont's politicians to ``reach out to people with
disabilities, reach out to people with psychiatric disabilities,
and people who are homeless.''
And Brown knows that the first step toward achieving any of
these public goals is to vote.
``Voting is just one step, but it's a step. Some people say
their vote doesn't count. The only time it doesn't count, that it
doesn't matter, is when you don't vote.''
Trouble is, state law defines a voter as ``a person who is
domiciled'' in a city or town ``as evidenced by an intent to
maintain a principal dwelling place in the town indefinitely and to
return there if temporarily absent.''
And Morgan Brown is homeless.
The last time Brown moved back to Montpelier in 1997, after a
year in Barton, he went to City Hall to register to vote with some
Brown had no permanent address, but told the city clerk's office
he could be reached care of the Another Way drop-in center on Barre
Street. ``They were fine with that, they were great.''
That sort of flexibility by town and city clerks is the norm
statewide, said Secretary of State Deborah Markowitz. Brattleboro
Town Clerk Annette Cappy concurred.
``I think as long as they give me an address as to where they
are living, they would have no problem voting,'' she said. ``It
doesn't have to be an apartment house; it could be under a bridge
But those sorts of accommodations are not laid out in state law.
And Markowitz said the absence of law on the subject means that
homeless person's voting rights aren't really protected. ``Right
now it could be quite arbitrary. One town could say yes and the
other say no to a person in similar circumstances.''
Michael Stoops, director of the Homeless Voting Rights Project
at the Washington-based National Coalition for the Homeless, said
that group's research shows that Vermont actually is among the
better states in its treatment of homeless voting rights.
Stoops, too, attributed that to support for those rights among
the responsible officials. ``There's no state law in Vermont that
makes it clear that homeless people have the right to vote,'' he
said. ``Vermont should have a law.''
Exactly how many homeless people there are in Vermont is hard to
pin down, said Tony Morgan, who administers programs for the
homeless at the Agency of Human Services. More than 4,800 people
spent at least one night in a homeless shelter last year and, in a
spot check, 235 were staying in shelters the night of Dec. 10.
Morgan said the real number of homeless is usually estimated to
be about three times the officials counts, with many people staying
in cars, camping out or sleeping on friends' couches.
Brown, a 44-year-old Connecticut native, has two goals this
fall: to encourage fellow homeless Vermonters to register by the
Oct. 28 deadline and vote Nov. 7, and to get ready for the upcoming
legislative session, when it's expected a bill will be introduced
to make it clear in Vermont law that losing one's home doesn't mean
losing the right to vote.
``People shouldn't lose their birthright simply because housing
is not a right in our society,'' Brown said.
Rep. Steve Hingtgen, P-Burlington, said he hoped to introduce a
bill in January based on model legislation backed by a national
group advocating for the homeless. Under the model law, the
applicant merely needs to provide a location within the city or
town _ it could be the village green.
Hingtgen said aside from his philosophical goal of getting a bit
more power to usually disenfranchised people, he has a political
interest, as well, in registering the homeless: There are three
homeless shelters in his district.
Brown, who lives with psychiatric disabilities including
recurring, severe depression, spends his healthier days working as
an activist, sending e-mails to a wide network of friends, public
officials, reporters and, occasionally, political adversaries, from
public computer terminals in Montpelier's state, local and college
He's been diagnosed by mental health professionals as someone
with ``serious and persistent'' disorders. He turns those words to
his advantage by calling himself a ``serious and persistent''
writer and activist.
Monday morning found him tapping away at the keyboard of one of
the terminals in the law library next to the Vermont Supreme Court.
Packing up to head outside for a conversation about his voter
registration drive, Brown hoisted a green backpack bulging with his
possessions and adorned with stickers and buttons declaring his
support for Progressive gubernatorial candidate Anthony Pollina and
Elizabeth Ready, the Democratic candidate for auditor of accounts.
Brown knows it won't be easy. Many homeless people don't have
the luxury of engaging in political debates; they're too busy
trying to survive, to find their next meal or a place to sleep out
of the weather.
The result is often a profound alienation. Brown says even U.S.
Rep. Bernard Sanders, whom Brown supports, spends a lot more time
talking about Vermont's senior citizens than about its homeless.
``The candidates don't bother raising our issues,'' he says.
``They don't think we'll vote, so they don't bother, so we don't
Brown is out to break that vicious circle. ``I see voting as a
very meaningful act. It's not the end-all. But if we can get
candidates articulating on our issues, we can all work together to
Received Id AP100270A5A429F0 on Sep 26 2000 14:31
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