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Vouching for a person registering to vote has been possible as long as I can remember. Conservatives have been complaining more and more vociferously about it in recent years, claiming that it leads to widespread fraud. They want photo IDs with a current address for everyone when voting as well as registering.
Of course, these same people would like to bring back the poll tax, a test on the constitution and English grammar before registration (only for some people, of course), and a return to the good old days of only property owners voting. I think in fact, the great thinker and civil libertarian Bradlee Dean proposed the latter requirement on the air just recently.
We’ll get to vouching in a moment, but first, here’s the briefest explanation of registration.
When you register to vote (which you have to do at the polls now; it’s too late to register ahead of the election), you have to prove who you are, and where you live. A driver’s license or a Minnesota ID with a current address are the typical (but not only) ways to do that; they fulfill both requirements. Note the photo requirement.
If you have one of these, but you’ve moved and the address is no longer current, it can still function as proof of who you are, but not where you live. This is where the subsidiary documentation of residence comes in: the current utility bill, for example.
Note that a passport can function as proof of identity, but not residence. Why? The address of the passport holder is not printed in the passport (unless you do it in pencil as the State Department suggests, so that it can be changed if you move), so you’d need the same subsidiary proof of residence as you would for a driver’s license with an old address.
The documents I’ve described are NOT an exhaustive list, but I just wanted to illustrate the two elements that must be proven to register. On to vouching.
If you are a registered voter in the precinct, you can vouch for someone seeking to register. When a registered voter vouches for another, the only thing they are affirming is the identity or residence of the voter, or both.
Vouching is not a statement of affirmation of anything else: not citizenship nor other disqualification from voting, such as a felony conviction, or a court-ordered guardianship. Part of the scare tactics employed by the voter suppressers to discourage people for assisting others to vote is the intimation that the voucher is guarantying everything about the qualification of the person being vouched for. Not true. The person registering makes affirmations about those things, and lying about them is a crime.
But a voucher is simply a substitute for identity and/or residence documents.
There are many situations where a voucher is the only way a person, constitutionally entitled to vote, will get the chance.
You have a family member who has moved back home after finishing school, because s/he lost a job (that one is common, these days), or lost her or his home for some other reason, and hasn’t gotten a new driver’s license yet. The voucher vouches for the current residence.
You have a new roommate, but the utility bills come in your name; again the voucher vouches for the current residence.
You live in a homeless shelter, or a shelter for battered women. In the latter case, you don’t even want your current address published where the abuser can find it. In cases like these, an employee of the shelter is usually designated to be a voucher for the shelter.
You live in a nursing home or a residential facility of some kind. Many of these people don’t have driver’s licenses or other picture identification. They don’t get utility bills, either.
If somebody you know, a family member, a new neighbor, the young person down the street who doesn’t drive, needs your help to vote, don’t be afraid to give it to them.
Update: One more quick point. If you registered to vote by mail, and you’re going to the polls for the first time since the registration, you will need an approved photo ID.