You are here: Home Support and Advice Archive Questions Consolidated Replies Voting by homeless people

Register for the ACE Newsletter



Voting by homeless people

Up to Consolidated Replies

Voting by homeless citizens

Facilitator - Stina Larserud , October 13. 2008

Original question

This question was asked by an ACE user from Japan.

Under the Japanese constitution, every Japanese citizen over the age of 20 has voting rights. However, in order to vote, the person has to be on the “resident register” (which is the basis for voting rights, as well as social insurance and many other rights linked to citizenship) and last year, in the city of Osaka, the city administration took more than 2000 people off that register on the basis of them not having a fixed address. This has thus in practical terms disenfranchised homeless people.

I would like to know about examples of how countries have solved this problem and made it possible for homeless people and others with no fixed address (e.g. a nomadic population) to register and vote.


Introduction: Voter Registration and homeless citizens


Quote from the ACE Encyclopaedia:

"Voter registration is the process of verifying potential voters, and entering their names and other substantiating information on a voters list. For registration to be fair, comprehensive and inclusive, potential voters must be aware of the registration process and have reasonable opportunity to complete it."


According to the Guiding Principles of Voter Registration stated in the ACE Encyclopaedia, voter registration exercises must be inclusive - in other words equally accessible to all eligible citizens. However, it might be more difficult to get information about and to carry out voter registration among certain groups of citizens, such as citizens living in rural areas, people with low literacy, economically or otherwise disenfranchised citizens as well as people with no formal address, i.e. homeless citizens (homeless citizens include persons with no shelter living on the street, people living in emergency and temporary shelters and hostels, and so-called couch surfers – people who move regularly, staying for short periods with family or friends).

Special measures may be required to break down barriers and make the registration system truly open to such groups, enabling them to take part in the democratic process.


Summary of responses:

One common method to enable homeless voting is to allow homeless citizen to use another address  (for example the address of a shelter) when registering. This method is used in countries such as Australia, Canada and the US. With regards to other groups of citizens with no fixed address, Afghanistan employs special measures to ensure that nomad tribes have the opportunity to register and vote, while countries such as Nigeria and Cambodia allow citizens to register with no fixed address as long as they are tied to a specific location (a village or a city).

In the US, homeless voting is frequently debated and the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) has run a You Don’t Need a Home to Vote campaign since 1992. The campaign focuses on five areas: registration, public education and training sessions, get-out-the-vote efforts, litigation, and state and federal legislation reforms. The NCH also introduced the National Homeless Voter Registration Week with various campaigns to encourage homeless citizens to register to vote.


Allowing homeless citizens to use another address

Australia, Canada and the US all employ regulations that allows eligible citizens with no formal address to register to vote by providing an opportunity to register themselves at another address.

register_hereAustralian Electoral Legislation includes provisions for 'itinerant electors', which allows citizens with no fixed address to register, re-register or remain registered for the last address that they were entitled to be registered at. There are also a specific provision for homeless citizens, who can fill in a specific form in order to be registered. More information is available at the website of the Australian Election Commission.

The US legislation varies from state to state, but many states (for example Massachusetts) allows registration of homeless citizens if he/she can prove an address where he/she could receive mail. Such addresses could be the address of a shelter or the address of a social institution or charity. The US Veteran Party provides a list of legislation related to homeless voting in various US states.

In Canada, an elector must provide proof of identity and an address in order to register to vote. Citizens unable to do so can provide an attestation of residence by the administrator of a local shelter,  provided that the shelter has provided food, lodging or other social services to the elector. This provision has generated some concern among shelter managers that police forces could access the voters lists to find people with outstanding warrants or tickets. Elections Canada has responded that the voters list is not a public document and will only be shared with those who require it for electoral purposes.


Mobile registration centres and polling stations

According to Frik Olivier, Afghan nomads (or Kuchis) with no fixed address can register to vote. In order to enable nomad registration and voting, the registration period is normally set to cover the period where the Kuchis travels less. Mobile Registration Stations are set up and Kuchi representatives are consulted when determining the location of these stations. The location of the registration stations is  then conveyed to all Kuchis through various means. There are also polling stations designated for Kuchi voters.


Allocating voters to cities or villages instead of streets

Frik Olivier states that in Nigeria and Cambodia, many citizens did not have a formal address either because they did not have a house or because street names were non-existent. For registration purposes, citizens were placed at a location (a village or a city), but without a specific address such as a street name. In order to be placed in a location, the citizen could either provide a legal and valid citizen document (birth certificate, national ID card, passport etc), be listed in any other kind of register (in Cambodia Family Registers maintained by the Head of the house were used) or being vouched for by the Chief of the Village (or similar) and a number of witnesses.


Replies were received, with thanks, from:  

Peter Williams

Ammar Al-Dwaik

Frik Olivier

Livianna Stephanie Tossutti


Links to related resources: 


On homeless citizens, registration and voting

ACE Encyclopaedia: Targeted Registration

Case study: Homeless Voting 2008 - Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless

Website: National Coalition for the Homeless

Website: Information about enrolling and voting for people experiencing homelessness (AEC)

Electoral Materials: Canada: The Electoral Participation of Persons with Special Needs

On Voter Registration

ACE Encyclopaedia: Voter Registration

ACE Encyclopaedia:Guiding Principles of Voter Registration 


Image: flickr/All Halley's Eve

Re: Voting by homeless people

Peter Williams, October 13. 2008

I know that the USA looked into the issue of homeless people being able to register to vote.  It was some time ago and I am not able to offer any real insight in to the outcomes.

The Australian Electoral Legislation however covers this to some extent under an elector category known as 'itinerant elector'.  This allows people who have no current fixed address or intend to leave the permanent address to register, re-register or remain registered for the last address that they were entitled to be registered at.  Note, they only have to have been entitled to register - not actually have been registered to be eligible for itinerant status.  In practice this means a person may register for an address that was not their immediate past or current address.  The entitlement is based on the duration and intent of the occupancy at the address.  I believe it is: a) it was intended to be a permanent address, and b) they must have been in residence for more than one month.

This Itinerant category covers people who move constantly for employment - fruit pickers etc and people who sell the permanent home to travel (with in Australia) for an extended period of time.

The category of registration is flagged on the voter register database.

The Austratian legislation also allows for people who are temporarily away from their permanent address to remain registered at their permanent home - provided they declare they have a fixed intention of returning to the permanent address.  This covers students who move into student accommodation for university studies and others who might take employement in another state but intend to return home following the contract etc.

The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) also held a stakeholders workshop on how the legislation might be improved to include homeless people.  This was some 4 or 5 years ago.  I can not comment on any outcomes of that exercise though.

I suggest you visit the AEC website at  You will also be able to contact the AEC through that website to make further enquiries.  You can access the Australian Electoral legislation through the website as well.

Re: Voting by homeless people

Ammar Al-Dwaik, October 13. 2008

Many states in the US addressed the issue of homelessness and voting. In Massachusetts, for example, a homeless person is entitled to register and vote if he/she can prove an address where he/she could receive mail. Some homeless persons provide the address of the shelter where they sometimes stay or the address of a social institution or charity that takes care of them. Please note that in Massachusetts, like most US states, registration is voluntary.

Re: Voting by homeless people

Frik Olivier, October 14. 2008

Nomads in Afghanistan, called Kuchis, can register to vote.  A few things were put in place to make this possible:

·         Keep the registration period over such a period where the Kuchis is normally static and there movement is the minimum.  For example: Avoid changing of the seasons time where the Kuchis would migrate to better pastures for their cattle.

·         The Kuchi representative was asked to nominate places where Mobile Registration Stations should be established.  Somehow the message would be sent out via the Kuchi telegraph where and when these Mobile Registration Centers would be.

·         A tick box was placed on the registration form to indicate that this person is a Kuchi.

·         Special Polling Centers would be set up for the Kuchis where only they can vote on Election Day.

The problem is still there that one cannot connect them to a physical street address, but measures were taken to calculate them in statistical reports and to be able to handle their special traditions in special ways.


For Cambodia and Nigeria cases it was handle pretty much the same.  Street names are pretty much non-existent.  Many people slept under a tree, a homemade shelters or informal settlements.  The additional problem was that people did not know their birth date. There is also no fixed way if identifying them as to be a citizen.  In these cases it was requested to be identified and therefore placed at a location such as a village, but without a fixed address such as a street address.  The ways to place such a person at a village, to establish legal age and that he was a citizen were to:

·         Have a legal and valid citizen document such as a National ID, Birth Certificate, Passport, etc.

·         Cambodia had Family Registers carried and maintained by the Head of the house.  These can be used to proof the person citizenship and place him and his family or relative of the family, at his house in the village.  It was enough proof to have the Head of the house together with the Family Register with the person’s name on, to place the person.

·         Have the Chief of the Village and two witnesses vouch for the person.

Again, the problem to place a person at a fixed street address is still present, but we could at least connect them to a Polling Centre and with that calculate the stats such as voter turnout, voter demographics, logistics, etc.

Other special cases were armed forces, prisoners and hospitals.

I think the idea is to try and make the reporting blocks as small as possible. The reporting makes much more sense if they are build from a very low level such as village or town.  It is good to have street addresses for voters, but that kind of information makes more sense in a census than in an election.  The big thing is to prove that the person is of legal age and a citizen.

Re: Voting by homeless people

Livianna Stephanie Tossutti, October 19. 2008


In Canada, an elector who is homeless or without a fixed address can vote if he or she registers on the voters list during an election.

To register, the elector must provide proof of identity and an address. Proof of identity can be demonstrated by an official document with the elector's name. For identity and residence, the attestation of residence by the administrator of a local shelter is acceptable, if the shelter has provided food, lodging or other social services to the elector.

In order to register and vote, the elector must provide a second document authorized by the Chief Electoral Officer showing the name of the elector.  If the person who is homeless does not have this document, he/she can register on election day if another voter who is registered in the same electoral district, and who provides satisfactory proof of identity and residence, can vouch for that person.



opinions expressed by members of the ACE Practitioners' Network do not
necessarily reflect those of the ACE Partner organizations.



Powered by Ploneboard
Document Actions