GW Students Ensure Homeless Doesn’t Mean Voteless

Graduate students in the Trachtenberg School coordinate a voter registration drive aimed at the city’s homeless.
October 23, 2012

By Amber Palmer-Halma

In an election season that’s been noted for the initiatives to restrict voter registration, George Washington University students have sought opportunities to educate and enfranchise an often overlooked group.

Homeless individuals vote at the lowest rate in the country. Many people don’t realize that homeless individuals can register to vote using the address of a shelter, park or street corner as their residence.

That information spurred graduate students and alumni of GW’s Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration to partner with the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) in educating and registering voters during its National Homeless and Low-Income Voter Registration Week.

The Trachtenberg students and alumni coordinated a voter registration drive, held Oct. 4 to 6 at the D.C. Public Library’s Martin Luther King Jr. branch. The group registered 132 new voters and provided information on voting locations and procedures to another 100 to 200 voters. In conjunction, a group of GW undergraduates worked with NCH to reach out to homeless voters during a daylong drive at a downtown park.

 These student efforts were noticed by people visiting the library as well as readers of Street Sense, the D.C. area street newspaper that is by, about and for homeless people. The Oct. 10-23 issue of the paper features a story, “Groups Rally to Improve Low-Income Turnout Rate,” with pictures and quotes from George Washington students involved in the voter registration effort.

The Trachtenberg School’s involvement was led by the diversity and inclusion chairs of the Trachtenberg Student Organization, Master of Public Policy student Ana Jara and Master of Public Administration student Anamita Gall, and supported by Trachtenberg Professor Elizabeth Rigby.  

“This project immediately grabbed our attention,” said Ms. Gall. “The goals of the Trachtenberg Diversity and Inclusion Committee are to promote social justice issues within our school, while also providing students with the resources to work in an increasingly diverse workplace and to serve an increasingly diverse public. We choose to fulfill those goals by seeking out opportunities where students can engage with marginalized communities to gain an awareness of the diverse public we are training to serve as well as different perspectives in public service.”

“On a personal note,” she added, “as a newly naturalized citizen who is going to vote for the first time this year, it was just wonderful to connect with others on civic engagement and democracy.”

Thanks to the efforts of the GW students, everyone involved became better educated voters.

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