Voting while Homeless

In 2011, Washington State shifted to vote by mail. For every election in which you are eligible to vote, we mail you a ballot with measures and candidates specific to your address. While vote by mail has improved voter access for many, not all voting-age residents have a traditional address. In the 2016 King County One Night Count, over 10,000 people, the majority of which are of voting age, were counted as being homeless. These people are staying in many places ranging from encampments to emergency shelters and transitional housing. So how do they get access to voting?


Washington State law states that ‘No person registering to vote, who meets all the qualifications of a registered voter in the state of Washington, shall be disqualified because he or she lacks a traditional residential address.’ King County Elections only needs an intersection, landmark, park, shelter or other identifiable location to register someone who lacks a traditional address. Our Geographic Information Systems (GIS) team will use the information provided to assign a precinct.

A mailing address is required for a non-traditional address since we still need somewhere to mail your ballot. This can be another challenge but there are organizations that provide mail service. They will hold mail anywhere from two weeks to up to three months depending on the organization, giving someone time to pick up a ballot that was mailed there. The Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness offers current information on these organizations. Once votes are cast, a ballot can be placed in the mail or dropped off free of charge at any of our ballot drop boxes.


But sometimes things come up and you’re not able to vote with your mailed ballot. Maybe you’ve gotten yourself registered and you have a good mailing address but now you’ve lost your ballot. Or maybe you couldn’t get to your mail location. King County offers online ballot access, as well as Accessible Voting Centers where our staff is always happy to assist voters at the last minute.

King County Elections wants to ensure that every eligible voter has access to receive and cast their ballot, no matter their living situation.