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Bill requiring proof of residency to vote in N.H. gets one step closer to Sununu

Published: 5/16/2017 3:29:01 PM

In a partisan vote, the House Election Law Committee endorsed a bill Tuesday that stiffens the requirements for people who register to vote within 30 days of an election.

Senate Bill 3 will now go to the full House for a vote.

The bill applies to people who register to vote within 30 days of an election and requires them to provide proof they live in New Hampshire and intend to stay.

People who show up to the polls to register and don’t have a utility bill, a lease, a car registration or other documentation could still vote. But they have to sign a form pledging to come back later with a required form of proof. Should a voter not return within 30 days, the bill gives local election officials authority to investigate suspected fraud.

Republicans say the bill is needed to ensure people living here temporarily don’t participate in state elections, while Democrats argue the legislation does little to prevent ineligible voters and will discourage students, homeless people and others from voting.

The House version of the bill lets town election officials refer any suspicious voter activity to the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s office for further investigation if supervisors of the checklist did not want to go to people’s houses and verify it themselves. The bill does not give the office, or town election officials, any money to carry out the checks. Currently, the state attorney general’s office oversees such investigations.

The committee voted, 11-9, to back the revised bill.

Committee Democrats raised the most concern with the enforcement piece of the bill, which they said could dissuade people from voting.

“We are going to require at some point agents of the state government ... to do home visits – that is, to knock on a door and say, ‘Papers please,’ for the crime of not forwarding to them a utility bill or a rent receipt,” said Rep. Andrew White of Lebanon. “That is not the New Hampshire way.”

Republicans said that the right to vote comes with responsibilities.

“We’re just saying you are responsible to show you are eligible to vote, that’s all,” said Rep. Michael Harrington of Strafford. “If for some reason you don’t have any paperwork, you don’t have anything that verifies who you are ... you can sign something that says you don’t have any of that and you still get to vote.”

The bill has the support of the state’s Republican governor, Chris Sununu. Interviewed on NHPR’s The Exchange on Monday, Sununu said he believes the bill is a good compromise that tightens up the state’s elections and pushes back on the perception that New Hampshire has widespread voter fraud.

“I have no evidence of voter fraud in the state of New Hampshire, I can only say it so many times,” Sununu said. “The legislation we’re looking at today simply firms up some of the gray area and ambiguity. There will be no voter suppression – if you voted legally in the last election, you’re going to be able to vote legally in this election.”

Sununu admitted he made some concessions on the bill, including on the issue of same-day voter registration.

“I had questions about same-day voter registration. We had hearings, people spoke out. They clearly want same-day voter registration, so we listened and we’re going to keep it in this bill,” Sununu said. “I think that’s a positive step.”

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or amorris@cmonitor.com. Ella Nilsen can be reached at 369-3322, enilsen@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @ella_nilsen.)


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