Connecticut’s human service nonprofits teamed up with Secretary of the State Denise Merrill’s office Tuesday to launch a statewide voter registration drive.
With the election just seven months away, the voter registration drive is designed to reach the 500,000 clients served through homeless shelters, childcare centers, and other nonprofit providers.
The Nonprofit Human Services Cabinet headed by John Merz, co-executive director of AIDS Connecticut, was unable to say exactly how many clients are eligible to vote but not registered to vote. Merrill estimated that it’s “a lot.”
When somebody is disenfranchised we know “there’s more barriers to overcome to get to the voting booth,” Merz said. The clients these providers serve like the homeless and convicted felons may not even know they are eligible to vote.
When it comes to the homeless population, Merrill said the biggest challenge is “locating them.” But Merrill said the law is clear in Connecticut that a homeless person can establish a residence at a homeless shelter in order to be eligible to vote. Merrill said the challenge for her office is making sure all the local election officials understand the law when it comes to this population.
“Sometimes they get uneasy when a person doesn’t have a permanent address,” she said. “But it’s very clear that people do not lose their eligibility to vote just because they’re in a homeless shelter.”
As for convicted felons, Merrill said they regain their right to vote after they fulfill their parole.
“The problem with that population is they don’t realize they are eligible to vote again,” Merrill said. “They need to be reinstated so there’s an affirmative action that’s needed to reinstate them. It’s not automatic.”
She said some worry they might not be eligible to vote again and get nervous about exercising their right. She said that’s why the contact with the nonprofit providers is so important.
Merz said the nonprofits have received the materials and training from Merrill’s office and Nonprofit VOTE to help them let the clients know about their right to vote.
Lisa Tepper Bates, executive director of the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness, said they received a tool kit they’re distributing electronically to each provider so each provider can print materials they can use with their staff and their clients to inform them about the process.
“We’re doing this largely with our own staffing and our own resources as part of the work we do everyday with clients,” Tepper Bates said.