Should you be required to show an ID to vote? Or should you be able to have someone vouch for you? Both.
Safeguards against voter fraud are a good idea, and it's not too much to ask voters to bring identification to a polling station to establish that they are who they say they are. But once they have, another voter with ID should be able to vouch for their address. That would make it a lot harder to commit fraud without making it much harder to vote.
It's a live issue because the Conservative government's new elections law does away with the long-established and widely-used practice of "vouching" – having another voter swear that you are who you say you are, and live where you say you do. Instead, every voter will have to show approved ID, with the correct address, to get a ballot.
That's raised the ire of opposition parties, who claim it's a Conservative effort to discourage voting among groups that tend not to vote Tory. The Conservatives insist it's an effort to crack down on voter fraud.
But it will definitely wreak havoc on voting day if the Fair Elections Act is passed in its current form.
It will affect more than 100,000 people, according to chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand. That notably includes students who might not have ID with their current address, and First Nations voters on reserves who, Mr. Mayrand said, sometimes don't have a typical residential address.
In response to those concerns, Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre has taken to pointing out that there are 39 different kinds of IDs that are accepted. If you don't have standard government-issued photo ID with the correct current address, you can use two pieces from an accepted list of other documents, like hydro bills, credit-card statements or even a student ID.
It's a reasonably long list, but, apart from the student ID, many are documents the average 19-year-old in a college dorm might not have. And they still might not have an up-to-date address. At any rate, it's not worth disenfranchising someone because the address isn't up to date: cracking down on fraud doesn't require eliminating the practice of vouching for an address.
Mr. Poilievre points to an Elections Canada report on vouching to make the case that the practice is riddled with "irregularities" to make the case that there's a need to crack down on fraud. It's a little bit of hyperventilation: the report he cites, by Harry Neufeld, finds that there were extensive irregularities, but what that the paperwork for vouching was often missing or improperly-completed, not that there was evidence of voter fraud.
Still, Mr. Poilievre is right that that's cause for concern, because those irregularities are a soft spot in the system for anyone who does want to commit fraud. It's not too much to ask that a voter brings a valid ID that establishes who they are.
But the problem is addresses. Elections Canada can't keep its voting list fully up to date, so 6.25 per cent of voters register on the spot on election day. The groups that are most affected by the eliminations of vouching – folks who tend to move, like students, or native people on reserves who don't have "typical" home addresses – should be able to prove their identity, but might not have the right address on an ID card come voting day. It's even harder now that the new law bars the use of Elections Canada's Voter Information Cards.
Once you've established who someone is, and seen their ID, there's no reason another voter with ID shouldn't be able to vouch for where they live. If there's a tiny bit more risk someone might still be able to vote twice in different ridings, it's still a lot easier to check the records and catch them: you know who they are. And you know who vouched for them, too.
As it stands, this bill goes too far: It takes a legitimate step to discourage fraud, and extends it – needlessly – to discourage legitimate voters.
Campbell Clark is The Globe's chief political writer.