Getting out the homeless vote

Homeless people often face real impact from changes to social service programs - yet mobilizing the homeless to vote in elections seems to be an afterthought. PhD candidate Anna Kopec says this needs to change.
People who are homeless, and don't have an address, can still vote - but not everyone, including those who operate polling stations, knows it.

We may not think of homeless people as voters, but according to Anna Kopec, we should.

Kopec, a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto, says while homeless people are able to vote, they, and the people who serve them, often don't know it.

And in her view, that's a problem. 

As a democratic state we are trying to make policies to better the most vulnerable in our if we don't actually hear from the most vulnerable, how do we know that those policies are in any way actually serving them?- Anna Kopec
Anna Kopec completed her masters thesis on the barriers that homeless in Toronto face when it comes to voting systems. (Provided)

​​Kopec says that nearly 60 per cent of the homeless people she interviewed didn't know they could vote.

Many thought that they needed an address — and some who did know, had been turned down at polls in the past.

"They were forced to sit and wait because the polling staff did not know how to go about allowing the individual to vote," she says. 

"So when an individual  without a permanent address comes in, as embarrassing as that may already be for that individual if you can imagine, then they come in and they're pulled to the side and there's this commotion, and that happens at all levels."

There is this stereotype that homeless people don't know much or don't care enough to learn or are so ostracized that they don't learn anything that's going on in the real world. Well, I have to tell you that it's completely the opposite.- Anna Kopec

Kopec, who did her research in Toronto but is from Edmonton, says she learned a lot about local and provincial politics from the people she surveyed.

To make it easier for individuals to make it to the polls, Kopec says the homeless population must be recognized as potential voters.

"They're not seen as voters and the politicians I talked to often said, 'they don't vote, so our campaign efforts are focused on populations that do vote' "

Secondly, Kopec says there needs to be better coordination between all levels of government, elections agencies and service providers.

Kopec strongly believes that if these changes were made and electoral systems were more accessible, people would take advantage.

"I think that if they were given the chance, it does come down to personal choice, but I can say with some level of certainty that from my sample, I think a majority of those that didn't vote or didn't know they could vote would do so."


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Account Holder

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?