Voter ID dry run hits speed bumps

Last modified: 9/12/2012 12:00:00 AM
Cynthia Houston, 84, had a flash of grumpiness when she went to vote yesterday in Boscawen: Her husband reminded her that she was supposed to bring a photo ID after they'd already gotten in line in the basement of the Congregational church.

"He didn't remember to tell me when we got out of the car," Houston said.

She had already started to leave when a town official stopped her and said she could still vote yesterday, which election officials considered a test-run for the implementation of the state's new voter ID law.

She wasn't the only one to run into some trouble yesterday, the final election day in which voters could simply show up at the polls, announce themselves and receive a ballot.

Yesterday, officials also asked for a photo ID, and voters who couldn't or wouldn't produce one were supposed to received a sheet informing them that on Nov. 6, they would need to produce a photo ID or sign an affidavit swearing they were who they said they were.

Ken Ward, a Democrat from Rollinsford running for the House, said election officials told him incorrectly he couldn't vote without an ID yesterday morning.

"I had one in my pocket, but I knew I didn't have to produce it," said Ward, 50.

Ward said more than half the officials knew him. Eventually, they told him to sign an affidavit, even though affidavits aren't required yet, he said. Ward assented and said he doesn't plan to file formal complaints.

The League of Women Voters and the New Hampshire Citizens Alliance for Action said similar circumstances, in which officials presented misleading information, occurred throughout the state.

Voters without identification were turned away from two wards in Manchester, the groups said. Signs in Barrington and Newmarket, for example, told voters that they had to have identifications.

"This election was supposed to be the election where people were told about it," said Joan Ashwell of the League of Women Voters.

"This turned into, 'You have to have a photo ID to vote in September to vote in a lot of places,' " Ashwell said. She and others said the state hadn't spent enough time training local officials or educating voters about the new rules.

"We're really concerned about the money for education for the people that are executing these elections," said Josiette White, New Hampshire director of America Votes, a liberal advocacy group.

White and Ashwell said advocates will meet today to decide how to proceed with the information gathered yesterday.

Election officials and voters surveyed in Concord, Boscawen, Tilton and Allenstown said that the bulk of voters had no problems showing a driver's license or other acceptable identification. However, confusion hovered over what, exactly, will happen in subsequent elections, and concerns remained that vulnerable populations could be disenfranchised because of the new law.

"There was a man in a wheelchair who didn't have a photo ID," said Christine Miller, who was staffing one of the desks in Concord's Ward 3 at the Beaver Meadow golf club. He was "very elderly," she said.

"That's the very people we're worried about with this bill," Miller said.

By about 4:45 p.m., 30 of the 398 people who had voted in Ward 3 had not shown an ID, officials said.

Between now and September 2013, acceptable IDs will include: driver's licenses issued by any state; a military ID; a valid photo ID card issued by the federal, state, county or local government; and valid student IDs. Some of those identifications are acceptable regardless of their expiration dates.

After September 2013, the rules will become more stringent and complicated.

The new rules don't bother Warren Watts, who lives in Concord.

"I'm sure there's a lot of people voting who shouldn't be voting, from what I understand," he said. He had no trouble remembering to bring an ID yesterday, he said.

In Boscawen, Houston's 82-year-old husband, Ted, said the law was overly cumbersome.

"I think it's so stupid, particularly if everybody here knows me. Why do they have to go through the formality?" he said. Ted Houston is a former town selectman.

"If they don't know who it is, then have them show it," he said.

A short while later, William Reid, 88, said he felt frustrated at what he saw as an uneven application of the law. The U.S. Department of Justice said New Hampshire's new rules complied with the Voting Rights Act but that similar laws in Texas and other states did not.

"The thing that makes you crazy is they require it here, but the attorney general says you don't need it (elsewhere)," Reid said.

He and his wife, Myrtle, 85, remembered their photo IDs.

"I always have it in my pocketbook," Myrtle Reid said.

As of about 2 p.m., seven voters out of 289 had not shown an ID in Boscawen.

In Allenstown, many residents seemed happy to show a photo ID, officials said. Tom O'Donnell, whose 10-year-old son accompanied him into the voting booth, said it was no trouble.

"I always have my wallet with me anyway," O'Donnell said.

By 4 p.m., 10 voters out of 357 at the St. John the Baptist parish hall hadn't produced a photo ID, officials said.

At the polls at Winnisquam Middle School, Tilton officials said most of their voters had come prepared.

"Some people, just to be ornery, wouldn't show an ID," Selectwoman Sandra Plessner said.

By mid-afternoon, 17 people of about 300 who'd turned up to vote had declined to show a photo ID, officials said.

But Scott Parsons, 52, wasn't among them. He said it was no extra work to bring one. He always carries it in his wallet, he said.

And if he didn't have it with him?

"I guess it'd be my own fault," he said. But he did wish there'd been more of an effort to get the word out about the new rules.

"If you're not one who watches the news, you wouldn't have known," he said.

(Molly A.K. Connors can be reached at 369-3319 or or on Twitter @MAKConnors.)

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