At a table behind a bike rack next to the University District Food Bank, Saleena Salango handed out snacks, American Civil Liberties Union voting rights restoration pamphlets, “I Voted” stickers and directions to the nearest in-person voting center on the University of Washington campus.
Salango, the advocacy coordinator for the Seattle-King County Coalition on Homelessness, had been doing this since 7 a.m. in places where homeless and low-income people congregate. As of last week, she and volunteers with the coalition had registered 52 people to vote, helped 8 people get their ballots to drop boxes, and helped 141 fill out voter registration forms since Oct. 15.
A man walked by on his way to the food bank.
“Have you voted this year?” Salango said.
“I’m fine,” he replied.
“It’s not too late,” Salango said. He kept walking.
“There’s a fine line between empowering and annoying,” Salango said afterward. “Sometimes people are receptive to our message and sometimes they have a lot of things going on.”
Usually, the coalition has engaged with many more voters by this time. The hygiene centers and programs where staff normally go to table have closed or limited their hours or capacity, so the coalition had to reduce its get-out-the-vote efforts.
“The last thing we want is to have volunteers reducing the number of people allowed inside to wash their clothes or do laundry,” said Alison Eisinger, executive director of the coalition.
Every time staff are out tabling, Eisinger said, they inevitably speak to someone who has a felony on their record. Much of their work is letting those people know that even with a criminal record, once they’re no longer under supervision by the Department of Corrections, they can vote. Some don’t know that they can vote if they don’t have a permanent address.
“A lot of the work we do is educating people, ‘you don’t need a home to vote,'” Salango said.
Rosemarie, a resident of nearby homeless housing, rolls up in her wheelchair with her poodle, Simon.
She already voted on Sunday, taking Simon on a walk to the nearest dropbox, but she picks up some snacks and an “I Voted” sticker. Her wheelchair is plastered with voting-related stickers, such as “Vote like your rights depend on it.”
She said she voted for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.
“This administration needs to be gone,” said Rosemarie, 62, who didn’t want her last name published because of her formerly homeless status. “It’s the most horrendous thing that’s happened to the country in my lifetime.”