Top outside group jumps into N.H. voter eligibility battle

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For the Monitor
Wednesday, December 27, 2017

A leading pro-Democrat national organization is jumping into the New Hampshire battle over a bill that would further tighten the state’s voting laws.

The move by the outside group Priorities USA, which was the top super PAC supporting then-President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election and Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, is another sign that the Granite State is increasingly becoming a major battlefield in the war over voter fraud and suppression.

Priorities USA announced the launch Wednesday of a digital campaign that targets Gov. Chris Sununu and four GOP state senators, urging Granite Staters to call their elected officials “and demand they oppose HB 372.”

A state Senate amendment added to the state House of Representatives bill could require voters to declare residency in the state. That’s a higher bar for voting eligibility that current state law, which requires only that voters be domiciled in New Hampshire. Granite State Democratic leaders have condemned the move, which would mostly affect out-of-state students attending in-state colleges and universities, calling it an attempt to suppress voting among a group that tends to support Democrats.

The amendment to HB 372 passed through the state Senate’s Election Law Committee in late November and is scheduled to be voted on by the entire Senate next Wednesday.

“Nothing should prevent any American from exercising their fundamental right to cast a ballot – certainly not age, economic status or service in our armed forces,” Priorities USA Executive Director Patrick McHugh said in a statement. “It is extraordinarily troubling that New Hampshire’s Legislature is considering a bill seemingly designed to create a new poll tax and ensure that fewer people vote.”

The ads are running on Facebook and target voters in the districts of Republican state Sens. Jim Gray, Dan Innis, John Reagan and Ruth Ward. Democrats say support for the voting amendment by four Republican lawmakers could possibly waver in advance of next week’s showdown.

The ads would run on Facebook through Jan. 4, the expected day of the vote, and are projected to generate more than 625,000 impressions.

Innis and Gray could also face tough re-election battles next year, and Ward’s GOP predecessor in state Senate District 8 opposed a similar move to change the voting eligibility definition from being domiciled to residency.

A separate ad will run statewide, calling on voters to contact Sununu, who was recorded on video recently pledging not to support any bill that would suppress the right of students to vote, as he told a young activists that he opposed HB 372.

Asked about the bill last week, Sununu told reporters, “There are some aspects that I’m supportive of, but there’s also some potential unintended consequences, and that’s what makes myself and some other folks across the state nervous. And that’s why we’ve asked them to go back and really take a look at not just what they’re trying to achieve but what the unintended consequences might be.”

“If it comes to a bill that is clearly suppressing a vote or a specific constituency in terms of voting, then that’s obviously nothing that I’m going to be able to support,” the governor added.

During his 2016 campaign for governor, Sununu alluded to out-of-state voters illegally casting ballots in New Hampshire. And Republicans in the Granite State have long pushed for stricter state voting laws and for tightening up residency standards for voting.

The first part of their mission was accomplished this summer, when Sununu signed into law Senate Bill 3, which had passed by the GOP majorities in the Senate and House.

The law, which was vigorously opposed by Democrats, requires voters submit documentary proof either at the polls or within a month after the election that they are domiciled in the state. That law has been on hold pending a legal challenge filed in part by the state Democratic Party, which says the bill creates unlawful burdens on the right to vote. A trial has been set for August 2018 in Hillsborough Superior Court.

Priorities USA is supporting the lawsuit against SB 3.