My Turn: New Hampshire is behind the times on voting integrity

For the Monitor
Published: 5/2/2021 2:00:05 PM

Once a privilege only for land-owning white men over the age of 21 and now the constitutional right of all American citizens over the age of 18, voting is the foundation of American democracy.

That is what made our Secretary of State’s appearance in front of the U.S. Senate to testify against the For The People Act, as well as his office’s lobbying effort against the bill with local election officials, utterly confounding. This critical elections reform package would protect the freedom to vote, get dark money out of politics, crack down on corruption, end partisan gerrymandering, and ensure elections are safe, accurate, and accessible.

During the hearing, Secretary Bill Gardner clung tightly to the New Hampshire constitution, which states that all voting must occur in person unless a voter is unable to be at the polling place. Gardner received no questions from the committee.

To put it bluntly, New Hampshire is behind the times. New Hampshire is one of a minority of states that do not yet allow the widely popular no-excuse absentee ballot. However, Granite Staters got a taste of just how well expanded absentee voting could be last fall when over 75% of the voting-eligible population cast a ballot in the 2020 general election.

This historic turnout was largely made possible by expanded absentee ballot availability in response to the pandemic, with a third of voters voting by absentee ballot. Leaders from both ends of the political spectrum statewide agreed that the election was a resounding success and as secure as ever.

In a state of such incredible civic engagement, we should be focused on ways to protect every Granite Stater’s constitutional freedom to vote and remove unnecessary barriers to voting, not discrediting recent successes. Fortunately, there are several great efforts underway in our state legislature to advance ballot security and access this legislative session.

One of those pieces of legislation directly builds on the success of the 2020 general election. S.B. 89 would create a regular window of pre-processing for absentee ballots, allowing for any discrepancies with signatures or affidavits to be cleared up well ahead of election day itself, a benefit to election integrity and our town clerks.

The other two bills, S.B. 46 and S.B. 83, would respectively shift the Granite State away from paper voter check-in lists on voting day to digital ones and create an electronic voter information portal. This voter portal would allow for new voter registration, requesting an absentee ballot or change of information forms to be initiated online.

Our state election system is in dire need of modernization. Many of us safely and securely pay bills electronically. We can casually send each other money over apps using only emojis to describe the transaction. Perhaps you just filed your taxes electronically? There is no reason that any voter should not be able to begin registering to vote or requesting an absentee ballot online too.

All three of these bills passed the New Hampshire Senate with near-unanimous consent and now move to the New Hampshire House, where it will have a public hearing before the House Election Law committee.

Hopefully, the same Senate that passed all three of those election measures will soundly defeat an anti-voting measure that recently passed the House.

H.B. 292 could require a person requesting an absentee ballot to an address other than their primary residence to either present their identification in person to town clerks or obtain a notarized signature to cast their ballot. This bill seeks to solve a problem that does not exist and would have an impact on a wide-spanning group of folks, including many traditionally conservative-leaning voter groups.

This would place an undue burden on voters with disabilities, voters without access to transportation, voters with multiple addresses, voters traveling for work or receiving medical care, and anyone for whom English is a second language, among others whom the additional task of traveling to, and potentially needing to pay for, a notary is enough to just say, “pass.”

We all lose when bad-faith actors like Secretary Gardner and sponsors of legislation like H.B. 292 undermine our democracy by making access to voting needlessly difficult. To move forward together as a state we must ensure that every eligible Granite Stater, whether Republican, Democrat, Libertarian or independent, can easily, freely and securely cast a ballot. When this happens, our elections truly reflect the will of the people.

(Palana Belken is a Rochester city councilor and board member of 603 Forward.)




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