Voting can be aggravating when polling places change locations, or there are long lines to wait in on a presidential election, but those are nothing like the barriers some encounter when they don’t have an address, or perhaps they’ve just come out of jail and don’t realize they can vote by law in Massachusetts.
Barriers to voting have been a major issue in the current election cycle, but they have been in place for decades when it comes to the marginalized populations trying to get back on their feet with the help of organizations like Project Place in the South End.
It being a year to break down barriers, Project Place decided to launch an effort to help their clients register and get to the polls.
“I think the staff realized there are a lot of individuals that aren’t aware of whether or not the can vote and how to access resources to be able to vote and to know where to go to vote on Election Day,” said Aaryn Manning, director of Project Place. “We felt we had the bandwidth and team in place to make sure our clients had the help they needed to vote on Nov. 3.”
It isn’t as easy as it sounds, though, as Project Place often works with individuals coming out of homelessness, or who are re-entering society after long prison terms – among a host of other challenges. In such situations, a client may not have an address – and not having an address becomes a huge barrier to registering and finding out where to go to cast a vote.
“Many of us take an address for granted,” she said. “Applying to vote isn’t that difficult for us. If you’re home address is a shelter or you’re living on the street, it might feel like you don’t have the chance to vote if you don’t have an address.”
In fact, those without an address can register to vote, but it’s not as easy.
That’s where the program at Project Place has helped clients navigate what isn’t an easy path to the polls.
“It takes time, and resources and energy, but we’re trying to serve as the helpers to allow these individuals that want to vote this year to take the next steps to do so,” she said.
Another key question is about those coming out of jail, a large part of the population that Project Place serves. In many states, those convicted and imprisoned on felony crimes lose the right to vote. Largely unknown is that it isn’t the case in Massachusetts.
Manning said upon leaving prison, most everyone resumes the right to vote again.
“The right to vote is reinstated as soon as you are released in Massachusetts,” she said. “There is a lot of misinformation out there about that, and every state is different so it can be confusing. We hear all the time from folks about what they have heard in other states and they don’t know what applies in Massachusetts. We constantly say that, but there are still a lot of questions about this.”
Project Place has combatted these barriers by offering online office hours to their clients. The clients are able to talk to counselors there about their personal experiences and barriers to getting registered.
One client from Project Place, who wished to remain anonymous, said they had participated in getting help to vote. It was important, they said, because it was their civic duty and a big part of re-entering society and being a contributor.
“The reason that I voted is because I believe that my vote truly does count, and that it really will bring about change,” said the client.
Manning said they are working to try to take the resources to the clients, in addition to the online office hours. She said they have brought voting resources and offered help at local shelters, substance use disorder facilities, to other community partners.