ACLU-NH sues over law that lets moderators toss absentee ballots

Monitor staff
Published: 3/20/2018 3:51:19 PM

Another aspect of New Hampshire election law is going to court: The ACLU-NH is suing over town moderators’ ability to reject absentee ballots if they have doubts about the signature, without telling the voter.

At issue is state law RSA 659:50, which allows moderators to reject absentee ballots if they don’t believe “the signature on the affidavit appears to be executed by the same person who signed the application” for voting by absentee ballot, “unless the voter received assistance because the voter is blind or has a disability.”

In a brief filed in U.S. District Court in Concord, the ACLU says that during the 2016, 2014, and 2012 elections, this law “disenfranchised approximately 275, 145, and 350 voters, respectively.”

“People should not be denied their fundamental right to vote because of penmanship, but that’s exactly what is regularly happening in New Hampshire,” said Gilles Bissonnette, legal director of the ACLU of New Hampshire.

The suit names three plaintiffs whose ballots were rejected in 2016, and argues that the law “is far more likely to disenfranchise people with disabilities.”

One plaintiff, Mary Saucedo, is 95 and legally blind and gets assistance from her husband, Gus.

“In the 2016 election, he assisted her in filling out her ballot, sent it in, and assumed her vote had been counted. Unbeknownst to them, it hadn’t,” the ACLU said.

The ACLU said courts have struck down “similar laws” as unconstitutional in Florida, California and Illinois.

“The decision to throw out a ballot and deprive a citizen of their vote is essentially arbitrary. There are no transparent procedures for evaluating voter signatures,” said Julie Ebenstein, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.

A hearing on the suit, Saucedo v. Gardner, is expected this summer.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)

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