N.H. Senate passes bill to tighten voter eligibility

  • The Senate convenes at the State House in Concord on Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor staff

Associated Press
Thursday, January 04, 2018

The Republican-led state Senate on Wednesday passed a bill to further tighten eligibility requirements for voters even though the Legislature’s previous attempt to do so remains stalled in court.

College students and others can currently declare the state of their domicile for voting purposes without becoming residents subject to other requirements, such as registering their cars or getting New Hampshire driver’s licenses. Supporters of the bill say that creates two tiers of voters, and that the bill will change the definition of residency and restore confidence in elections.

The bill passed, 14-9, along party lines and will go back to the House. GOP Gov. Chris Sununu said he opposes it.

“My position has not changed,” Sununu said after the vote Wednesday. “I remain opposed to SB 372 as it is currently written.”

Members of his party argued the change was necessary to ensure confidence in election results.

“This will create consistency and clarity going forward and bring us in line with our surrounding states of Vermont, Massachusetts and Maine,” said Sen. Regina Birdsell, R-Hampstead. “We owe it to the people of New Hampshire to have complete confidence in our voting system.”

Republican President Donald Trump has alleged widespread voter fraud in New Hampshire, claiming it led to his loss to Hillary Clinton in the state, though there’s been no evidence to support that.

Trump created an advisory committee on election integrity and tapped New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner as one of its members. On Wednesday, Trump dissolved the commission because he said states were bucking the request for detailed voter information. 

In an effort to crack down on out of staters voting here, New Hampshire enacted a law last year requiring voters who move to the state within 30 days of an election to provide proof that they intend to stay. But the New Hampshire Democratic Party and the League of Women voters sued, saying the law was confusing, unnecessary and intimidating. A judge in September allowed the law to take effect but blocked penalties of a $5,000 fine and a year in jail for fraud and said further hearings are necessary.

Sen. Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, said it didn’t make sense to pass a new voter eligibility law when the other one’s fate remains uncertain. She said such legislation creates solutions to problems that don’t exist.

“We have in our election laws a process that is viewed by people from around the world. We have the first-in-the-nation primary. Our elections have integrity,” Soucy said. “Why do we need to continually put up these deterrents and these barriers to people, be they young or old or be they people who moved here two weeks ago or people who intend to stay here for two years or 20? What are we so afraid of?”

But Republican Sen. Andy Sanborn of Bedford argued that such measures are necessary to restore trust in the process.