One of two bills seeking to tighten New Hampshire’s residency standards for voting eligibility passed the State Senate on Wednesday after an hour-long debate during which Democrats accused Republicans of voter suppression and Republicans accused Democrats of promoting false narratives about what the legislation would actually do.
Now, the big question is what Gov. Chris Sununu will do if House Bill 1264 reaches his desk. The governor has said he opposes this and another nearly identical bill (House Bill 372) as currently drafted, but he hasn’t specified what changes would need to be made to win his support or whether he plans to veto.
Asked to clarify the governor’s position after Wednesday’s vote, his spokesman Ben Vihstadt offered the same statement the office has given in response to previous inquiries on the issue: “The Governor’s position has not changed. He has serious concerns with both HB 372 and HB 1264, and does not support either bill in their current form.”
Both bills would remove a hotly debated clause from the state’s residency definition — “for the indefinite future" — in an effort to limit voting eligibility only to those who demonstrate an intent to put down roots in New Hampshire.
Public testimony on the bill has been overwhelmingly negative, with many critics arguing that it would discourage participation among college students and other more transient populations. Some opponents also framed the bill as a flawed response to perceptions about the prevalence of voter fraud.
“Yes, there’s a perception we keep hearing of voter fraud. Just like saying it doesn’t make it so, having a perception does not make it so,” Sen. Martha Hennessey, a Democrat from Hanover, said during the floor debate Wednesday. “For Heaven’s sakes, we’ve got to stop saying that, well, we have to worry about the perception. Since when is that the way we operate in New Hampshire?”
Claims that voter fraud is widespread in New Hampshire are unsupported by the state’s own case files, according to a recent NHPR analysis.
Supporters of the bill, including the Secretary of State’s office, have argued the bill is simply meant to clear up confusion around who’s eligible to vote in New Hampshire and to bring the state’s laws more in line with others.
On the Senate floor Wednesday afternoon, Republican Sen. Sharon Carson echoed this sentiment and disputed her Democratic colleagues’ claims about voter suppression.
“No one is suppressing the vote here in the state of New Hampshire,” Carson said. “I actively encourage people to vote here in the state of New Hampshire. No one. I actively encourage people to vote. But you have to vote where you live.”