The Harvard Square Homeless Shelter staff sponsored a homeless voter registration drive last Friday night in anticipation of the rapidly approaching presidential election.
About 20 undergraduates participated in the initiative, walking around the Cambridge area in an effort to provide homeless individuals in the area with information on how to vote and fill out the Massachusetts voter registration form.
“The homeless have the most unheard yet important opinions to voice,” said Imeime A. Umana ’14. “Even a single registration. It’s one person that wouldn’t have been able to vote otherwise.”
Before the drive, Harvard Square Homeless shelter staff and inactive Crimson photography editor Pamela Jimenez Cardenas ’13 instructed students not to make any political reference while approaching individuals and to be both careful and respectful in their interactions.
“We’re going into their space, it’s like having someone coming into your room and waking you up at night,” she said.
Participants said that many individuals who were approached were unreceptive and reluctant to fill out a voter registration form.
“[One man that was approached] filled out half of it, but then he said that he didn’t want to do it anymore,” said a student after the drive.
When asked why they didn’t want to vote, many said that the entire process was fake, that they were already registered or that they did not have time.
“I don’t know enough about politics,” said a man who was approached by participants. “I’m trying to get more information, but it’s difficult.”
Another woman, while declining to fill out a voter registration form, thanked staff members for their efforts.
“I’m all set, but thanks so much for doing this,” she said.
Homeless shelter staff members said that they were disappointed with the lack of interest in registering and said that their votes could have a profound impact.
“The more civic participation we have, the more policymakers will be accountable for their actions,” said W. Powell Eddins ’16. “So it really breaks my heart to see people not registering.”
Overall however, participants were successful in registering 17 individuals. A man approached by homeless shelter staff expressed concern that he did not have an address to provide on the voter registration form.
“I’ll go vote,” he said, after using the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter address in order to complete the information.
The voter registration drive also attracted passersby who had not had the opportunity to register yet.
“[A man] was biking by and he just stopped to fill out the form,” said a student.
After the voter registration drive, participants assembled to discuss what had occurred during the initiative. Some suggested to change the day and time of the event, as well as expand into Boston as a way to collect more registrations. The students also agreed to conduct another drive next week.
Most reported having had positive experiences, despite the limited number of individuals that were registered to vote.
“Even if they didn’t register, it’s important that they felt they count,” said Mackenzie S. Hild ’14, who helped coordinate the drive.
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Voting Made Easy with TurboVoteIt's not entirely unusual to hear Harvard students complaining that they don't have enough free time. While most will find the time to fill out a voter registration form, doing so has been made significantly more convenient. A new service, TurboVote, developed by two Kennedy School alums, claims to make voting by mail "as easy as renting a DVD from Netflix," according to the website.