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Our Turn: Senate should accept House’s good compromise on voter ID

In 1870, we amended the U.S. Constitution to guarantee the right to vote to men of all races. Fifty years later it was amended so women could vote. The poll tax was abolished in 1964, and in 1971 every citizen 18 years old or older was guaranteed the right to vote. In addition, Congress adopted the Voting Rights Act forcing states to end discriminatory election practices and the National Voter Registration Act and Help America Vote Act to make voting more accessible. New Hampshire’s Constitution and laws kept pace, and, in the process, made our state the center of attention for presidential elections.

How sad to see 13 state senators vote to undermine almost 150 years of progress protecting the rights of all citizens to have a say in how we are governed.

Earlier this year, the House decided to keep last fall’s voter ID laws in place and repeal provisions severely limiting the kinds of IDs to get a ballot. The House also repealed a provision to take a photo of anyone who didn’t have one of the IDs. The photo would be filed and used for future investigations.

The Senate rejected the House bill and voted to immediately restrict the list of photo IDs to just four while temporarily allowing local election officers limited discretion to recognize other IDs and people they know. The Senate also voted to add the camera provisions during the next presidential primaries and, at the same time, remove election officers’ discretion to recognize commonly used IDs. The only IDs allowed in the Senate bill are a driver’s or non-driver’s license, a passport or a military ID, not expired more than five years.

The House bill was a compromise between repealing the voter ID law altogether or retaining last fall’s list of IDs and waiting to see if other laws are needed in the future.

The Senate’s bill is not a compromise. It immediately puts in place the most restrictive list of photo IDs in the country and only delays other parts of the photo ID law until the presidential primaries. Sen. David Boutin’s claim that letting election officers pick and choose who can vote without showing a photo ID will protect voting rights could not be more wrong. In reality, it’s an invitation to return to exactly the kind of discrimination this country has been moving away from for the last 150 years.

All of the IDs rejected by the Senate are routinely accepted, along with many others, as proof of identity by our Division of Motor Vehicles and the U.S. Passport office.

The Senate’s list of IDs for voting is unnecessarily limited. Few people have a current passport and many can’t afford one. Military IDs are rare because so few people ever serve in the military. The number of people younger than 26 with a driver’s license has dropped steadily for 16 years, and typical older citizens eventually give up driving. People who don’t drive find it nearly impossible to get to one of our few, limited-hours DMVs for a non-driver’s license.

There is no reason to refuse student IDs, state employee IDs, Social Security or Medicare cards, birth certificates and dozens of other routinely accepted IDs.

The League of Women Voters of New Hampshire urges the Senate to recognize this country’s diverse population and the fact that every citizen 18 years old or older has a constitutional right to vote. The House bill was a reasonable compromise, and we urge the Senate to accept it in a committee of conference.

(Liz Tentarelli and Sally Davis are co-presidents of the League of Women Voters of New Hampshire. Joan Flood Ashwell is the organization’s election law specialist.)


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