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Voter Eligibility Bill Clears N.H. Senate Along Party Lines

Allegra Boverman for NHPR
Voters in Hollis on Election Day, 2016

A Republican bill adding new requirements for proving voter eligibility has cleared the state Senate along party lines. The measure would require create more stringent verification requirements for people registering to vote close to an election.

Lawmakers this year have considered dozens of GOP-backed bills aimed at fighting potential voter fraud. But Senate Bill 3, which seeks to tighten the definition of domicile for voting purposes, is the one leaders most want to become law. As she opened what proved to be a lengthy - and at at times prickly - debate on the bill, Senator Regina Birdsell, its prime sponsor, cast it as a benign effort to better spell out and verify the qualification of voters.

“No one will be denied the right to vote, and I repeat, no one will be denied the right to vote.”

But Democrats, like Senate minority leader Jeff Woodburn of Whitefield, view the bill, which is backed by Governor Chris Sununu and secretary of state Bill Gardner, something more far more noxious.

"This is an attack on the legitimacy of our election, quite frankly it’s a stink bomb tossed into the voting booth, leaving a stench."

Specifically, the bill asks people registering to vote within 30 days of an election to show evidence that New Hampshire is their domicile. Proof could be matriculation at a college, a lease, a driver’s license or proof a dependent child was enrolled in a local public school.

People lacking proof could still vote, but could be visited by local officials out to verify they live where they claimed.

Democrats say such requirements will disenfranchise voters on the margins: the poor, recent immigrants, or victims of domestic violence. Senator Dan Feltes of Concord argued the complexity of the bill would tax local election officials and voters alike.

"This bill requires folks sign a form attesting that they understand all of these new arcane definitions, can they really do that. My good friend from senate district 18 was just saying that it take four and a half minutes plus just to read it. Some folks, Mr. President, can’t read. You have to sign this. In my view, that potentially constitutes an unconstitutional literacy test and a violation of the Voting Rights Act."

That would be for a Judge to decide. For Republicans, like Warren Senator Bob Guida, the more pressing concern is the current system.

“You don’t need a single piece of paper to show you live anywhere and you come to the polls and you vote and it counts. The disenfranchisement occurs when someone who doesn’t validly deserve to vote disenfranchises a vote of someone who did.”

This fight now moves to the New Hampshire House, where Republican leaders say they are eager to act fast to get it to the Governor’s desk.

Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000.

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