N.H. Republicans, Back in State House Majority, Renew Push for More Voting Restrictions
College students, voting rights advocates and others packed — virtually — into the House Election Law Committee Monday morning to oppose a batch of Republican bills that would, in various ways, make it harder for some people to vote in New Hampshire. NHPR's Casey McDermott spoke with All Things Considered host Peter Biello about the changes up for debate.
Peter Biello: What kind of issues were on the table today?
Casey McDermott: As you know, voting battles have been front and center at the State House in recent years. And in particular, Republicans, when in power, have pushed for new restrictions, in some cases fueled by unsubstantiated cries of fraud in the 2016 and 2020 elections.
So, that's the backdrop for the hearings today in the House Election Law Committee. They heard two kinds of broad categories of bills. On one hand, there were a few that were targeting pretty explicitly the voting rights of college students. And then, on the other hand, there were bills taking aim at people who lack paperwork when registering to vote, which, of course, could include college students, but also potentially lots of other residents.
Biello: College students have been a target for New Hampshire Republicans for a while. What's new this year?
McDermott: You're right. Republicans really have not made a secret of the fact that they have a problem with student voters, and especially those who came to New Hampshire for school but hail originally from another state. One of the bills heard Monday would offer in-state tuition to anyone who registers to vote in New Hampshire. The same bill would also make it so that students could no longer use their college I.D. as a photo I.D. when voting. So that would be an issue for some students. In effect, the bill would force schools to take a financial hit if more of their students voted here. So, you know, unsurprisingly, the college and university systems said they aren't really a fan of this, because of the potential for lost revenue.
Another bill would remove the option for students to use attendance at an institution of higher learning, a college or university, as a qualification when registering to vote. In both cases, the Republicans pushing these bills suggested that it was unfair that the law creates, in their view, special privileges for students who they believe are not really residents of the state. Again, that's paraphrasing them. But those Republicans were vastly outnumbered by students who spoke up to highlight the many ways that they engage with their communities here in New Hampshire.
Biello: You also mentioned changes that could affect a broader group of voters. What's going on there?
McDermott: So, people can kind of think about what it's like when they register to vote: You have to prove age, citizenship, domicile and your identity.
So, if you have a New Hampshire driver's license that covers three of those categories: age, identity and domicile. But it doesn't cover citizenship. So, if you show up and you don't have, maybe, a birth certificate or naturalization papers or a passport which can prove citizenship, you can sign a form and say, you know, “I'm eligible; I meet the requirements.” The legislation heard today would remove that option of signing the form in lieu of providing that paperwork.
Biello: And why are they trying to get rid of this?
McDermott: So the Republicans pushing these bills suggested that the current system basically is, in their view, too lenient, and in some cases suggested that changes would help tamp down on doubts that people have about the integrity of New Hampshire's elections.
But the arguments that we heard in this case, and in response to a lot of restrictions that are being proposed, are based largely on perceptions that there's a problem rather than a documented pattern of problems. When pressed, one of the Republicans pushing for this change cited a case where a West Lebanon resident casting ballots in the 2016 election under two different names. That case was prosecuted by the New Hampshire attorney general's office. But we should note that that same office has repeatedly, in court and elsewhere, said that voter fraud is rare and not a serious problem in New Hampshire.
Biello: So these are all Republican backed bills in a Republican led State House. Should we expect to see most of these become law?
McDermott: We'll have to wait and see. I think that, regardless, it's fair to say that opponents of these bills are also really gearing up to push back on these bills and other proposed restrictions that are coming forward in the Legislature this year. And as we've seen with a lot of State House debates, the remote participation has made it easier than ever for more people to get involved, especially college students who otherwise may have a class schedule or other difficulty getting to Concord. So that's all to say, I think that we can expect this debate to continue and can certainly expect to continue to see a lot of pushback to these measures.
(This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.)