Officials expect voter ID bill to increase expenses

Last modified: 5/18/2011 12:00:00 AM
State lawmakers yesterday continued to parse the fiscal implications of a proposal to require voters to show photo identification.

The bill would require people without valid photo identification to vote by provisional ballot and return by the third day after the election to verify their identity. The Department of State projects the law would increase state expenses by $80,670 in 2013 and $103,840 in 2015, and the state association of town clerks says the requirement would increase local costs as well.

The state would have to pay the cost of identification cards for people who lack them as well as the cost of hearings for people seeking waivers from the requirement.

State Rep. David Bates, chairman of the Election Law Committee, told the House Finance Committee yesterday that he considers the estimates too high. Bates, a Windham Republican, said the calculations relied on a larger number of voters than would actually show up without identification.

The proposal passed the Senate 18-6 in March. The House approved it 243-111 earlier this month before sending it to the Finance Committee.

Democrats on the committee sounded skeptical of the plan. Rep. Ben Baroody of Manchester asked his fellow members if they had ever worked checking identification at the door of a night club.

'I kind of think this is a solution looking for a problem,' he said. 'If someone wants to commit fraud, they're going to do it, and a fake is pretty easy to get these days.'

Rep. Sharon Nordgren asked how elderly voters without photo identification would meet the requirement. Nordgren, a Hanover Democrat, read a report that voters yesterday morning in New Boston were asked to show photo identification because of the bill.

New Boston police Chief Christopher Krajenka confirmed that a sign posted at New Boston Elementary School yesterday morning instructed voters to show photo identification because of pending legislation.

Krajenka said he was told about the sign about 10:50 a.m. and arrived at the school 15 minutes later to find it had been removed.

He said officials with the Department of Justice have the sign.

Assistant Attorney General Matthew Mavrogeorge said his office is investigating a complaint about a sign at a New Boston polling spot. He declined to give further details. Mark Myrdek, an investigator with the Department of Justice, said he spent the day examining what impact, if any, the sign had on the polling location, including whether it had turned away any prospective voter.

'We're going to look at the whole thing and determine at the end what exactly took place,' Myrdek said.

The state association of town clerks opposes the photo identification requirement out of a fear it would raise expenses for local communities. Those costs would come from the need to train election officials, educate voters and keep town and city clerk offices open for three days after an election to accept identification for voters who cast a provisional ballot, said Sue McKinnon, president of the New Hampshire City & Town Clerks Association.

Clerks in many small towns do not work full time. McKinnon said the requirement that a clerk receive identification by noon on the third day after an election would force those towns to open their clerical offices for additional hours. Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan told the committee yesterday those small towns would need to create additional office hours to verify the provisional ballots. Municipalities could also need more staff on hand at the polls, he said.

'There are provisions in this bill that certainly could cost the towns more money,' Scanlan said.

The law would take full effect for the November 2012 election, Bates said, allowing voters to be told at several upcoming elections about the new requirement.

Melissa Bernardin, a lobbyist with the progressive group America Votes, said that if lawmakers decide to require photo identification, they need to ensure voters are educated about the changes through far-reaching tools such as radio, television and direct mail.

'This would be a significant change in the way we conduct elections in New Hampshire, and the voters need to be informed,' Bernardin said.

The committee is scheduled to vote on the proposal next week.

(Karen Langley can be reached at 369-3316 or klangley@cmonitor.com.)




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