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Change in Minnesota law eases voting for homeless

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Gerald Galarneau, who is homeless, needed someone to vouch for his residency at a Minneapolis shelter so he could register to vote. (MPR Photo/Toni Randolph)
A change in Minnesota's voter registration law makes it easier for people who are homeless to vote. The new law allows shelter workers to vouch for their clients' residency.

Minneapolis, Minn. — The Branch III Resource Center of Catholic Charities in Minneapolis bustles on Election Day, as it does every day. The Minneapolis day-center provides dozens of homeless men and women with meals, leads for jobs and social services. And now, it's helping its clients register and vote. The center is one of two sites educating homeless people about their voting rights and helping them exercise those rights, even if they have nowhere to live.

Under Minnesota's election law, a registered voter in any precinct can vouch for the residency of another eligible voter who lives in that same precinct -- even if they're homeless. Gerald Galarneau, who stays at a Catholic Charities shelter in Minneapolis, was at the Branch III day center hoping to find someone else who stays there to vouch for him so he can vote.

"I think it's more important than ever because my situation is difficult and there's very little I can do, but vote and speak out," he said. "Not just for myself, but for others that are in the same situation as myself. So that's why I want to vote."

Even if Galarneau can't find one of his fellow shelter residents to vouch for him, a shelter employee can now vouch can. A new provision in the state's voter law allows residential facilities such as homeless shelters and nursing homes to let their workers vouch for their residents. This is the first election since the law went into effect.

Joshua Lang works works at St. Stephen's Housing Services, but on election day he was at Catholic Charities. When Minnesota Public Radio caught up to him, he was about to leave to take one of his shelter's residents to a polling site.

"I need to vouch for him because he doesn't have a current ID saying where he stays. So I can vouch for him, to say that I know who he is, I've seen him stay at St. Stephen's, that's what his primary residence is right now," he said.

Election officials like the change in the law. Joe Mansky, the elections manager for Ramsey County says the change allows more people to vote.

"The people who are in these facilities are largely not voting in great numbers because they lack the kind of documents that we require in our state law to get registered on Election Day," he said. "So anything that helps people who are eligible to vote, to register and vote, we see as a good thing."

Mansky says he's not concerned about voter fraud. Anyone who lies in the voter registration process could face criminal charges.

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