CONCORD, N.H. — New Hampshire’s Republican-controlled Legislature is again considering measures that would affect voter registration and the casting of ballots, even though the most recent change to the state’s election law remains in limbo in court.
Under a law that took effect last year, voters who move to the state within 30 days of an election are required to provide proof that they intend to stay. But after Democrats and the League of Women Voters sued, a judge blocked penalties included in the law and said further hearings are necessary.
Meanwhile, Republicans are pressing ahead with legislation they argue will help restore confidence in elections and prevent fraud, while opponents say the goal is to prevent certain groups of people from voting.
Under current law, college students, medical residents and others can declare the state their domicile for voting purposes without become bona fide residents subject to other requirements, such as registering their cars or getting New Hampshire drivers licenses.
The House Election Law Committee held public hearings on four of the bills Thursday:
A bill sponsored by Rep. Lisa Freeman, R-Manchester, would prohibit voters under age 70 from using driver’s licenses or other photo IDs that expired more than five years before an election as proof of identity at the polls, and it would ban the use of out-of-state licenses for that purpose. Freeman said her goal was to “solidify integrity” in voting. Opponents argued that the purpose behind requiring voters to show photo IDs is to match names and faces, and it doesn’t matter whether a license is from another state.
Voters who use out-of-state licenses as identification at the polls would be handed information about the state’s motor vehicle laws under a bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Michael Harrington of Strafford. Those laws require drivers to obtain a New Hampshire license and register their vehicles within 60 days of becoming bona fide residents, and while the bill doesn’t make voting conditional on becoming a resident or getting a New Hampshire license, critics said it would create confusion and could deter people from voting.
Opponents also pointed out that the state Supreme Court struck down a 2012 law requiring people registering to vote to sign a statement saying they declare New Hampshire their domicile and are subject to laws that apply to all residents, including motor vehicle laws. The court called the language confusing and inaccurate and imposed an unreasonable burden on the right to vote.
“I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that if you were to pass this, that a similar lawsuit would be brought and would very easily be decided on the same basis,” said Rep. David Bates, R-Windham.
DOMICILE VS. RESIDENT
A bill sponsored by Rep. Sherman Packard, R-Londonderry, would essentially do away with the distinction between full-fledged residents and those who claim the state as their domicile for voting.
The bill is similar to one that was amended by the Senate last month and sent back to the House.
Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan spoke in favor of the bill. He emphasized that neighboring states require those who vote in their states to become residents, subject to motor vehicle and other laws.
“Just being domiciled here and not being a resident is an absurd result,” he said.
Rep. Brian Stone’s bill would require an out-of-state college student to show evidence that he or she did not come to New Hampshire solely for attending school but rather “intends to make this state his or her home for the time being.” Stone, a Republican from Northwood, said the bill wouldn’t prohibit students from voting, but would help restore integrity to the voting process.
He cited estimates of the number of people registered to vote in multiple states to back his claims, but critics noted that being registered in two states doesn’t mean someone voted twice. They also took issue with some of the acceptable “evidence” listed in his bill, including payment of state or local taxes and the presence of immediate family members in the state. One opponent questioned whether buying lunch in the Statehouse cafeteria, and thus paying the state tax on meals would qualify.
Michael Parsons, a student at Dartmouth College, said the bill’s intention was clear: to silence his voice.
“The message to me is, while I love this state, the state has no interest in protecting my right to vote or keeping me here after college,” he said.
This story has been corrected to show the bill regarding the definitions of domicile and residents is similar to one that the Senate sent back to the House last month.