Cathy Thomas, Staci Smith, Laura Odom, Kerrigan Sanders, and April Muñoz volunteer at the “Under the Bridge” location after registering homeless Smith Countyresidents to vote on Saturday in Tyler. 

A group of Smith County volunteers has been spending one day a month encouraging homeless residents to register to vote and educating them on the democratic process.

The group has organized the events as a nonpartisan community service, and has timed the registration after a weekly meal and toiletry distribution that an unaffiliated local church holds every Saturday morning.

On Saturday, five residents filled out their Texas voter registration forms at 601 W. Valentine St., a place known in the community as “Under the Bridge,” where homeless residents often sleep.

The area is behind the headquarters of the Northeast Texas Public Health District, a few hundred feet from where East Gentry Parkway meets North Beckham Avenue.

“I just want our homeless population to know that they can vote despite their living conditions or anything like that,” said Kerrigan Sanders, the president of the Smith County Young Democrats, an organizer and a volunteer deputy voter registrar.

“They still have the right to voice their opinions and to cast their ballot at the voting stations for whoever they want to represent them, and it’s on us as volunteer voter registrars to go out to the community and to educate,” Sanders said.

Pursuant to Texas law, Sanders said the group registers people regardless of their party, including Republican, independent or Libertarian. Texans do not register to vote by party, and Texas law requires voter registrars to offer their services to everyone.

Homeless people can register to vote in all 50 states, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless. They must list on the form their place of residence, which can include a street corner, a park or a shelter, the coalition’s website says.

“Designation of a residential address or location of residence is required to ensure the voter lives within the district in which she/he wishes to register and to assign the voter to the appropriate polling location,” the website says.

While there are states that once required traditional dwellings to be listed on voter registration forms, those states have either overturned those laws or seen them overturned in court, according to the coalition’s website.

Sanders said some who register are able to use the address of 601 W. Valentine St. to designate where they live, and for a mailing address they can put the address of a nearby homeless shelter or a nearby post office where they’re allowed to get mail.

“We signed up some people who were just die-hard Trump supporters, and we educated them on the process,” Sanders said. “By the Texas election process, I can’t sway voters either way.”

She said some are reluctant to register to vote because they think they will be called to serve jury duty, and others have a deep knowledge of national politics and would like to get more involved in local elections.

Sanders said the group registered about 40 voters at similar events in 2018, and is hoping to register another 60 through the series of events this year, held every fourth Saturday of the month.

She said she hopes increasing homeless voter registration will help remind local government officials who they are working for.

TWITTER and INSTAGRAM: @_erinmansfield

Government Reporter

Erin came to Tyler from Vermont, where she worked for VTDigger.org and previously the Rutland Herald. She received her B.A. in Economics and Spanish from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, where she also attended journalism school.

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