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A Nation Engaged: Homeless People in Milwaukee Undeterred by Voting Challenges

Marti Mikkelson
Homeless people share a meal at Hephathea Lutheran Church in Milwaukee

WUWM has joined NPR this week in a special reporting project, called A Nation Engaged. It's exploring whether Americans believe their vote counts. WUWM asked homeless people in Milwaukee. Some say they’ve encountered problems, but all plan to keep voting.

Joanna Beamon is one of several dozen people who’ve come to Hephethea Lutheran Church in Milwaukee’s central city for dinner. Beamon says she votes in every election.

“I mainly vote because one, it’s a right and people in the past died for it so I might as well take advantage of the situation while I can because they might change it any day, you never know. Laws change, whatever,” Beamon says.

Beamon says she doesn’t like the fact that she can only vote during the week because she’s sometimes busy. She says it would be nice if Wisconsin would allow voting on weekends. When I asked Beamon if she thinks her vote counts, she replies, no. She points to the presidential election of 2000. Democratic Vice President Al Gore won the popular vote, but the electoral count went to Republican George W. Bush.

“Even though I vote and I might be part of the popular vote, the Electoral College could wipe all of that out. So, our votes really don’t matter. It all depends on the Electoral College and I think that’s wrong, it should be whoever gets the most votes wins,” Beamon says.

Yet, Beamon says she continues to vote regularly. So does 81-year-old Ruthie Gilmer, even though she says she had trouble in 2008 when then-Sen. Obama faced Republican Sen. John McCain.

“The line got so long, it was around the corner once, so I went home. When you get old, you don’t want to stand that long, you don’t want to do it,” Gilmer says.

Gilmer says luckily, she went back to the polls later with her daughter and was able to get in a shorter line. Vincent Anderson says he wanted to vote in Wisconsin’s presidential primary this past April. But, he couldn’t locate his polling station.

“This year, it’s been difficult because I can’t find a place. Then when I do find a place it’s either not there anymore or it’s somewhere else and it’s too far and I don’t have a car,” Anderson says.

But, Anderson vows to be more vigilant in November, when the country selects a new president.

“Because I feel like that’s more important to me. The senators and all that are important too because they play a role, but to me it’s more about the presidential, the safety of our country,” Anderson says.

Another person in line for a meal – and anxious to vote this fall, is Herman Fisher.

“We are the voices for Congress and the Senate to make things happen and be different in life. Because if we don’t do anything, how are they going to know what to change? How are they going to know what to put on the table if we don’t ever say anything?” Fisher asks.

Fisher says he spent several years in prison for dealing drugs and was homeless until three months ago. He says he feels blessed to finally be a member of the voting public again. Darius Smith believes his vote matters and says it’s important for everyone to go to the polls.

“Because if that one person doesn’t vote, it might just be the one vote that doesn’t get the person to the position they want to be in and become President,” Smith says.

Smith says for the most part, he hasn’t had difficulty voting and says he’s thankful that he has proper identification. Wisconsin recently began enforcing its law that requires voters to show Photo ID at the polls.

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