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N.H. Senate backs new requirements for proving voter eligibility

  • Voting takes place for Belmont town elections and Shaker Regional School District at Belmont High School on Thursday, March 16, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)



Associated Press
Thursday, March 30, 2017

People who move to New Hampshire within 30 days of an election and want to vote will be required to provide proof that they plan to stay here long-term under a bill passed Thursday by the Senate.

Anyone who can’t provide the proof, from a driver’s license to a lease, will still be allowed to vote. But if they don’t follow up with that proof shortly after the election, they could face a knock on the door from local officials.

The bill passed along party lines and will now head to the Republican-controlled House.

Republican Sen. Regina Birdsell said the bill won’t stop anyone from voting and is aimed at cracking down on potential fraud.

“We are not trying to purge any voters,” she said.

But Democrats argued it will disenfranchise and intimidate voters, particularly those who are transient or can’t read well enough to understand the new registration form. Senate Minority Leader Jeff Woodburn called it “a stink bomb thrown into the voting booth.”

Republicans’ yearslong calls for tightening the state’s voting laws gained fresh attention this year when Republican President Donald Trump alleged widespread voter fraud in New Hampshire. There is no evidence that widespread fraud exists, but Republicans argue existing state laws create the potential for fraud. A handful of voter fraud cases have been prosecuted in recent elections.

In New Hampshire, people can register to vote on Election Day and can vote if they claim the state as their domicile, or the place they consider their home. Opponents of existing laws say the definition is too loose and wrongly allows campaign workers or others here for temporary purposes to cast ballots.

“We don’t have any protection on fraud because we are one of the most lax states in America,” Republican Sen. Andy Sanborn said.

The bill would add a new requirement that people show through a “verifiable act” that they intend to stay here. That could include residency at a university, a deed or lease, a state hunting or fishing license, or proof that a person’s child attends a local school. If people don’t have the proof on Election Day, they have 10 to 30 days to provide it. If they can’t, the town would take action to prove they live where they claim, which could include showing up at voters’ doors.

If voters are found to have lied about their domicile, local officials would report them to the secretary of state and the attorney general for further investigation.

Republicans say the bill strikes a necessary balance between allowing people to vote and protecting against fraud.

“I don’t think that’s too much to ask of our voters,” Birdsell said.

But Democrats say the lengthy form will confuse voters and potentially turn some away.

“The new voter line at the polls is going to be back up outside the door. Simply reading (the form) takes good 4½ minutes,” Sen. Donna Soucy said. “And that’s if you can read well and understand it the first time.”

Secretary of State Bill Gardner, a Democrat, backs the bill.