My Turn: Sununu’s vetoes of voting rights bills must not stand

For the Monitor
Published: 9/13/2020 6:20:04 AM

It is safe to say that the upcoming general election will be unlike any before. Town and city clerks and moderators are expecting record numbers of absentee ballots as we continue to develop best practices for voting safely in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

The nation is at a crossroads as we confront systemic racism, an eviction crisis, record unemployment, and a global pandemic. The votes we cast this November are about more than who we elect; they are about what we value as a state and a country. Our votes will set the tone for who we want to be as a nation.

Our democracy is built on the idea that every voice, and every vote, counts. This year, Senate Democrats put forward four pieces of legislation to improve our election system and protect free and fair elections both during and after the coronavirus pandemic.

Of those, Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed three. On Sept. 16, the House and the Senate will return to the State House and the Whittemore Center to act on Gov. Sununu’s vetoes – each vote requires a two-thirds vote to override, which would mean that legislation would become law despite the governor’s veto.

At a time when the way we vote, and our access to voting, is at stake, it is critical that we look at the legislation before us and fight to override Sununu’s vetoes on voting rights bills.

The Senate will be taking up my bill, SB 7, also known as the SMART Act, to modernize New Hampshire’s election infrastructure and make registration more accessible to eligible Granite State voters by allowing the DMV to collect information and then securely transfer that information to the election net system.

More than ever, we need to invest our federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) funds into streamlining the registration process. We have heard the fears of our local election officials who worry about the impacts of long lines for same day registration. The SMART Act would reduce time spent in lines and allow people to cast their votes quickly and safely. Additionally, it would ensure accurate data to further secure our elections.

The SMART Act is a proven system – 16 states and the District of Columbia have seen the significant impact of accurate data imports in regards to registering eligible voters.

According to the U.S. census, there are more than 300,000 eligible New Hampshire voters who are not yet registered. It is our job to expand election access and ensure every voice is heard – but Gov. Sununu would rather keep roadblocks to voting in place.

It’s clear the current system isn’t working for all Granite Staters. It’s time to ask why Sununu is afraid to ensure everyone can vote by enacting common-sense measures to secure our elections.

The House will be taking up the governor’s vetoes of two other bills to safeguard our elections – an independent redistricting commission (HB 1665) and comprehensive election reform (HB 1672).

New Hampshire voters overwhelmingly support independent redistricting. We saw that support in many New Hampshire towns, including Hopkinton this summer when 87% of voters at the annual town meeting supported a petition warrant article to support HB 1665.

When districts are drawn by those seeking political gain, districts are gerrymandered, which in turn silences the voices of eligible Granite State voters. Both the House and Senate passed HB 1665 with bipartisan support, but, true to form, the governor vetoed the measure.

Now the House has an opportunity to do the right thing and override this out-of-touch veto. Will Republicans do what’s right for New Hampshire, what they cast their votes for just a few short months ago? Or will Republicans betray their constituents to protect Sununu?

HB 1672 aimed to bring New Hampshire up to speed with secure and modern election systems that have been proven successful throughout the country. It would have instituted the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), online voter registration, and made no excuse absentee ballots a permanent fixture in New Hampshire elections.

Election day scheduling challenges are not new to the coronavirus pandemic. Long before the public health crisis, eligible voters have missed elections due to work schedules, caregiving responsibilities, or illness. No excuse absentee voting removes those scheduling roadblocks and ensures everyone can safely and securely cast their ballot.

Voting is a deeply ingrained part of New Hampshire’s culture. As the first-in-the-nation state, our engagement in the democratic process is a point of pride. This November, I urge voters to raise their voice. Vote safely, vote with pride, and vote for the New Hampshire you believe in.

(Melanie Levesque of Brookline represents District 12 in the New Hampshire Senate.)


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