Hidden behind the government district in downtown Phoenix sits a cluster of homeless shelters, food banks and clinics. Run by both religious groups and the City of Phoenix, each provides men and women basic living necessities and assistance with the transition out of homelessness, a period averaging about three months, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless. Of the services offered, few help those participate in one of the most basic civil rights of American citizens — the right to vote. Both local and national election processes present the difficult tasks of finding a ballot, getting to a voting place, accessing election information and acquiring the necessary identification to register and cast a vote.
Scott Williams, a homeless guest at the André House of Hospitality in downtown Phoenix, is registered to vote, but hasn’t voted since 1980, when Ronald Reagan ran for president. “There’s so much to memorize, and those materials are hard to come by,” Williams said. “I don’t like it.”
Samuel Richards, executive director at Protecting Arizona’s Family Coalition, said Williams’ attitude is common among those experiencing extreme poverty, and that most of the people he and the organization work with don’t vote. “Only 30 percent of people in Arizona that make $20,000 or less (each year) are registered to vote,” Richards said. “Said another way, there’s a 70 percent voter registration gap among people experiencing poverty.”
George Pillsbury, senior consultant of the organization Nonprofit Vote, also said his organization frequently runs into complaints like Williams’ in their work.