VENICE, Calif. — Not having an ID can be one of the biggest barriers to casting a vote. In the last midterm election, 21 million eligible voters didn’t vote because they didn’t have an ID. In some states, IDs are not required to vote, but those without IDs are far less likely to vote than those with identification.
To Kat Calvin, founder of nonprofit Spread the Vote, an ID means so much more than voting— it’s a gateway to participating in all pieces of society and the democratic process.
“For folks who are trying to start their lives over again, an ID is everything,” said Calvin. “There aren't a lot of places that have the expertise and the funds to be able to help them get it, but they need it to access everything else.”
Spread the Vote assists those experiencing homelessness, returning citizens, foster children aging out of the system, and the elderly obtain an ID.
“It's really hard for a lot of people,” said Calvin. “We have this issue where we have people who want to work and want homes and want to be stable and take care of their families, but they can't because they can't get a birth certificate, because if you go to vital records and ask for a birth certificate, they'll ask for your ID. But it's also not free.”
Mark Perone is currently living on the streets in Los Angeles. He’s had his ID stolen twice, and he said that’s discouraged him from trying to replace it again.
“I was deprived of it. It hampered me from everything, from signing up for different programs or for money. I still haven't got any stimulus'. They're just floating around out there somewhere,” said Perone.
He’s been unable to get stable work or housing, and he hasn’t voted in years. Even though California doesn’t require an ID to vote, Perone said he feels left out of the system and hasn’t had an interest in participating.
“It's dangerous being out here like this. All my clothing was robbed twice since I've been out. I'm very jaded over what’s happened,” he said. “But we're not in the past, right? We're here, so maybe I need to re-look at that. I will.”
But, with help from Calvin, he’s started to have hope and interest in taking part in the democratic process again.
“It's very humbling. If I'm going to keep livin’, it's got to be in a way better frame of mind, frame of character, you know? Now's the time, and there's no excuses, because these folks are right here helping me, you know, put my life, put my life back together,” said Perone.
Calvin said this is not a sentiment felt by Perone alone.
“If you look at voter turnout, it is directly proportional to socioeconomic status. Ninety-nine percent of the 1% vote, and it goes down from there. You can almost exactly determine whether or not someone is going to vote by their income. Most of our clients have no income. There are not a lot of people who are unhoused who are voting. There aren't politicians who are coming to talk to people who are unhoused. We make it really difficult.”
As midterm elections approach, Calvin said her work is becoming more important than ever. Getting IDs to more possible voters is a path she sees toward real change.
“There's no way to pretend that like we're going to have some miraculous election in midterms that everything's going to be okay. We've taken our country to the bottom, and now we have to build back up. The hope, though, is that no one's given up.”
Calvin said she will not give up. She is planning to canvass her city day after day, giving more people a path to participate. Spread the Vote operates nationally and is doing this work across the country.
“By income, by issues, by the fact that we're all just two disasters away from being homeless ourselves, everything we care about is what they care about,” said Calvin of those living on the margins of society. “So, we all have to vote together and we have to make sure they can vote.”
And for Perone, having an ID means more than a vote, it’s dignity.
“I have a say so, I don't have to keep waiting.”
It’s opening other doors for him, too. He is now on a list to get housing assistance and a fresh start.
“It’s amazing to me,” said Perone. “I don’t really know how to put it into words. I broke into tears right away because I live on the ground.”
“All of these things, they're all interconnected. The more that we help the folks who are the most vulnerable, the more we're helping our whole country,” said Calvin.
If you would like to learn more about Spread the Vote, click HERE.