Democrats vote to overturn Republican changes to N.H. voting laws

  • Dunbarton residents come to the Dunbarton Community Center to vote during Tuesday's snowstorm on town voting day, Mar. 13, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

Monitor staff
Published: 3/7/2019 6:53:59 PM

New Hampshire House Democrats passed sweeping legislation intended to undo changes to voting laws made by Republicans over the past two years, in a pair of party-line votes Thursday that rattled the State House.

In a 209-155 vote, the House approved House Bill 105, which would undo the additional voting verification procedures established in 2017 under Senate Bill 3. The new law requires those attempting to register on Election Day or 30 days beforehand to produce detailed evidence that they live where they say they do or face fines and jail time.

Republican backers of that bill said it was a natural extension of the law meant to add accountability to domicile requirements that already exist. But Democrats have maintained that the documentary requirements are too high and the punishments too severe, and said it would drive low-income voters away from the polls.

Speaking on the House floor Thursday, Wolfeboro Democratic Rep. Edith DesMarais argued the requirements under SB 3 are too difficult for average people to read, would add longer lines at the polls, and discourage participation.

“New Hampshire is well known for high voter participation, confidence in the integrity of our electoral system and our responsible processes,” DesMarais said. “SB3 was a solution searching for a problem ... It is only creating confusion, voter intimidation and extra work (for polling employees).”

SB 3 has yet to take full effect; a 2017 lawsuit seeking to make that point and filed by the New Hampshire Democratic Party and the League of Women Voters resulted in a Superior Court ruling that froze the penalties of the bill.

HB 105 would repeal it entirely. And it would remove the authority for the New Hampshire Secretary of State to use the CrossCheck interstate voter information sharing system to winnow down potential matches of people who voted in multiple states. That program has come under fire from Democrats who say that the matches it generates are mostly false matches and could result in unnecessary disenfranchisement.

Republicans said that the vote to repeal should await the outcome of the lawsuit, which is expected to be taken up by the Supreme Court.

“This is nothing but a ping pong back and forth, back and forth that citizens do not want to see,” said Kathleen Hoelzel, a Raymond Republican. “We should allow the court to do its job.”

Meanwhile, House Bill 106, which passed 213-154 Thursday, would reverse the changes to the state’s domicile and residency definitions. Last year legislators passed HB 1264, which removed qualifying language that let those staying for short periods of time in New Hampshire, like campaign workers, designate themselves as domiciled people but not residents upon voting.

By mandating voters have an intention to stay “for the indefinite future,” HB 1264 made proof of residency a qualifying factor to vote. That means those who vote would be subject to motor vehicle registration and driver’s license fees – even if they’re transient workers or college students – which Democrats have likened to a “poll tax.”

Republicans have said the law, which takes effect in July and has already attracted lawsuits of its own, is a common-sense way to ensure that all those who vote are treated equally. But the House’s vote would effectively undo that change, re-inserting “for the indefinite future” into the law.

Thursday’s votes solidified what has been a long-building partisan divide over voting issues, with Republicans accusing Democrats of supporting conditions for fraud and Democrats accusing Republicans of attempting to disenfranchise college students.

The bills move to the Democratic Senate; if passed they would crash against the office of Gov. Chris Sununu, who has gradually come around to the Republican voting reforms after initially opposing them.

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