With my internship at the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, we are not able to do direct service very often because our primary focus is on advocacy. This week, however, I came to understand more fully the joys of direct service and how inspiring it really can be. Both this week and next, our organization is focusing on getting as many individuals who are living on low incomes or who are homeless registered to vote. I organized the voter registration drive and was able to go to Ballard Food Bank this past week and help some of the people there register to vote. It was an amazing experience and I could tell many stories about it but one story particularly stood out to me:
One man came through the line to get a sandwich for lunch and we asked if he was registered to vote and he told us he was not registered because he couldn't register to vote. We asked him why and he said he was a felon. Now many people do not know this, but the law changed in 2009, and felons can vote as long as they are no longer under the Department of Corrections (i.e. parole). So because of this law, we asked him if we could ask him one more question and he said sure. We asked when he had committed a felony and he answered over thirty years ago. We then told him that he could ABSOLUTELY register to vote. At first, he was skeptical, but we explained the new law to him and told him that as long as he was no longer on parole he had the right to vote. Seeing the joy on his face once he found out he could vote was amazing. He told us that he had wanted to vote all his life but he had thought once he committed a felony his voting rights were stripped away for life. We helped him register, and as he completed the form, his face began to light up; he realized that voting was finally becoming a reality for him and that he would have a voice. He told us as he was leaving that we had made his day and that he couldn't wait to vote and would definitely be casting his ballot in November.
These are the kinds of stories that make you want to get up in the morning and continue working in non-profits, even when you are exhausted and worn out. This experience warmed my heart more than I ever thought possible and I am so excited to continue to register voters this week in an effort to make sure that every voter counts and is able to have the opportunity to register!