Kentucky Board of Elections Counters “No Address, No Voter Registration” Claims
by Jesse Call
Under Kentucky law, eligible residents experiencing homelessness can register to vote based on the place where they regularly stay night-to-night, regardless of whether that place is a traditional dwelling or has an official address. For example, someone regularly sleeping outside a courthouse can register with the courthouse as his or her address.
However, the issue that has brought confusion and debate is what happens when people experiencing homelessness fail to give any address on their voter registration form. Are Kentucky’s county clerks required to allow them to vote anyway, and if so, in what precinct?
Chris Kellogg, communications director for Kentucky Secretary of State Elaine Walker, who chairs the Kentucky Board of Elections (BOE), explained that when a voter registration card fails to list an address, it is considered incomplete and clerks are not required to register the voter.
However, Kellogg said a BOE policy that has been in place for several years in the Commonwealth states that if a county clerk knows a person is homeless and lives in the community, he should register the individual in the precinct where the county clerk’s office is located. This is the message intended to be articulated through a memorandum issued to county clerk’s offices last month, she said.
At least one local county clerk got a different message.
Kenny Brown, the clerk for Boone County, said he read the memorandum as creating a loophole that could lead to rampant voter fraud. It also could allow voters to cast a vote for a position in a precinct in which they do not actually reside.
“We don’t mind anyone homeless registering to vote as long as they fill out a card telling us wherever they are staying so we can put them in the proper place,” Brown explained. That way, voters are voting in the elections that actually influence them, he continued.
In response to the BOE memorandum, Brown issued a press release and sent a counter memorandum to the State Board of Elections as to why he felt the directives were not consistent with state law and should be changed.
Brown cited Kentucky laws which require residents to provide both their mailing and physical addresses.
Unlike the portion of the law which states a registrant must provide a Social Security Number, “if any,” there is no similar language alongside the address requirement.
Another law states that if a registration is not “properly filled out,” it should be rejected. Brown says lacking a mailing and physical address means the form is not properly completed.
He also cited two criminal statutes that people can be charged with felonies if they vote in a precinct other than the one in which they reside.
Kellogg said Brown’s complaints are in regards to state laws and policies that have been in place for years and there was no new or changed requirements in the memorandum.
She also indicated there is a possible misunderstanding. She gave a resounding no when asked if a clerk must register a voter who provides “homeless” or “place to place” on his or her voter registration form, unless a clerk knows the person and knows that they are homeless in the community. She said a person cannot just walk in and write “homeless” as their address and be registered to vote without question.
Despite these policies being in place for those years, a GOP candidate vying for Secretary Walker’s seat, Bill Johnson, has filed an ethics complaint against her for directing county clerks to register voters under the policies.
“[The BOE’s] guidance is unlawful and against the Kentucky constitution,” Johnson said, echoing Brown’s sentiments about voter registration laws requiring an address.
“No Address…No Voter Registration. That is the Law!,” his website, kentuckybill.com, reads. But, Johnson said he has no problem with people experiencing homelessness exercising their right to vote.
Johnson agreed that every American has the right to vote, but he said every American must also meet the state-mandated requirements in order to exercise that right. He said he feels Walker is being unethical by not enforcing those requirements and that is why he filed an ethics complaint against her.
To him, the solution is not to make an exception to the voter registration process. Instead, the Commonwealth needs to work harder
to help those experiencing homelessness get an address.
“The most compassionate thing to do is to help them get an address,” Johnson said, adding that when he volunteers at homeless agencies he stresses the importance of getting an address with the clients.
The outcome of the ethics complaint is expected in September.
Walker responded to the ethics complaint in a statement which included: “As board chairman, I can assure voters that [local election] officials serve their communities with diligence on this and every issue and execute the voter registration process for all citizens who meet the eligibility criteria to the letter of the law and policies.”
In addition to the ethical and legal concerns, Johnson, like Brown, is worried about voter fraud. He cited the recent scandals involving the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), which had some of its offices accused of orchestrating voter fraud efforts.
If persons are able to register homeless without question, it may be difficult to prevent people from voting out of district or voting multiple times.
Johnson said his motivations are not based on any concerns that people registering as homeless might vote against him or for another political party. Everyone, regardless of political affiliation, should have to follow the same voter registration laws regardless of social status, he said.
People experiencing homelessness in Kentucky should not be worried about registering to vote in their local communities, Kellogg said,
because no laws have changed. Every person registering to vote should, however, be as specific as possible about where they regularly stay and use that information on their voter registration form if they do not have an official address.
One form, available online at: http://tinyurl.com/homelessvote allows people to draw a diagram of where they live in lieu of providing
an actual address. The form can be submitted to their local county clerks offices or the address on the form for the State Board of Elections office in Frankfort. The form can also be used to register to vote in Ohio and Indiana.