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Divided Along Party Lines, House Election Committee Recommends SB3 — With Some Changes

Allegra Boverman for NHPR

The House Election Law committee voted along party lines Tuesday to recommend an updated version of voting bill SB3, a Republican-sponsored bill to add tougher enforcement for voters registering within 30 days of an election.

The latest version of SB3 differs in several ways from the one the Senate passed, also along party lines, in March.

In response to widespread concerns that the bill could impose onerous and unfunded new responsibilities on local election officials who would be tasked with verifying voters’ credentials after an election, SB3 now allow the Secretary of State’s office to investigate voters’ credentials if towns don’t want to take on that role.

The Secretary of State previously requested broad investigative and prosecutorial authority through another bill introduced this session, but lawmakers opted to hold off.

Under current law, the attorney general is responsible for handling such investigations but has been dealing with a backlog of cases because of limited resources. Another bill under consideration right now would give the agency more money to hire another investigator to deal with election complaints.

The updated version of SB3 also clarifies that New Hampshire’s existing state law allowing students to vote would still be used to determine eligibility. The bill previously said students could show proof of “residency at an institution of higher learning” but didn’t elaborate on what that meant.

At public hearings on the proposal, SB3’s critics and even some of its supporters argued it could make it more difficult for students voters to cast a ballot in the communities where they’re attending school.

The bill has drawn contentious debate at every step in its path through the Statehouse.

Republican lawmakers and the Secretary of State say it's needed to shore up more confidence in the state’s elections. Opponents, most vocal among them a mix of Democrats and municipal officials from across the state, argue it could intimidate otherwise valid voters and place too high a burden on local election officials.

House Election Law Chairwoman Barbara Griffin nodded to her Democratic colleagues’ concerns at Tuesday's hearing, before voting in support of the bill.

“The right to vote is a constitutional right, and it is an important right to protect. But it’s always interesting in talking about constitutional rights as to whether or not you think they should come without burden or with burden,” Griffin said. “And your position on that often changes depending on what constitutional right you are talking about.”

The full House will likely vote on SB3 at its next session, and Gov. Chris Sununu has signaled he’ll sign it if it reaches his desk.

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