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Ministry is making sure people can vote by mail — even if they have no address

By Samantha Melamed, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Religious News

PHILADELPHIA — When she got to the spot on the voter-registration form that asked for her Social Security number, Yvonne Stratton shook her head emphatically.

"I'm not putting my Social on there!" said Stratton, 58, lamenting a recent battle with identity theft. "I guess I'm not voting!"

Then, Brian Hughes approached. In calm tones, the voter-registration worker for Broad Street Ministries assured her that her state ID number would suffice. Stratton, who normally doesn't vote, said she'd go ahead and give it a try‚ even though she's been disgusted by the campaigns' political mud-slinging. ("I thought only street people did stuff like that," she said.)

Stratton can't say much for the candidates. "All I can say is, Broad Street Ministry has been there for me for 15 years. They helped me out more than my own family."

The organization, which doubles as the mailing address for 3,000 people who are homeless or housing insecure, this year faces a monumental logistical and civic challenge in ensuring that all of those visitors have a voice in the election. The introduction of mail-in voting has made that prospect more complicated than ever, since thousands of applications and ballots could be filtering through the bustling mail room.

So, Broad Street is running a pilot civic engagement project, aiming to ensure each guest has the opportunity to make their vote count.

 

Every step of the process requires attention and care, said LeBrian Brown, Broad Street's re-entry and civic-engagement coordinator.

For one thing, people have to feel comfortable: "A lot of them have told me that they haven't registered because they weren't comfortable with how people approached them: They just come up to them on the street, and ask them for their registration, and leave," he said.

For another, when life is chaotic, voting can feel like a monumental endeavor. Clients tell him they may not remember to vote. Or, they're open to voting by mail — but might forget to put their ballot in the mailbox.

With a $25,000 grant from the Independence Foundation, Brown hired voter registration temps to staff the nonprofit five days a week during the daily lunchtime crush, when 300 or more visitors crowd in to grab meals, pick up mail, or inquire about other services. He looked for workers he thought visitors could relate to, like Hughes, who is also a regular guest at Broad Street.

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