Governor-elect Chris Sununu has said tightening voter laws, potentially eliminating same-day registration, is top on his to-do list once he takes office.
I'm not saying that people are doing things illegally but the system allows for so much grey area in terms of who's a resident, who's not, how long have you been here, same-day voter, what are the checks and balances. It's just about getting that into place....It's not necessarily about about fraud. It's about having a system
that I think now is just too loose. -- Governor-elect Chris Sununu, speaking on NHPR's Morning Edition.
But he’ll face resistance to that idea – and not just from Democrats. Republican representative David Bates, speaking on The Exchange, said eliminating same-day registration would introduce a host of complications and expenses. He said there are better ways to go about preventing problems at the polls.
“I would not be supporting that and would be encouraging the governor and all those concerned —rather than a major overhaul of the system – to focus more on specific changes to fix what we’re doing now and make it more clear what a person needs to show to substantiate their qualifications to vote, checking up after the fact, verifying affidavits of people who don’t produce those documents when they vote on election day, and making it explicitly clear that you have to be a resident of the state in order to vote here.”
Bryan Gould, former vice chairman of the state GOP, said that absent proof of fraud – and there has been no evidence of widespread or systemic fraud, according to long-time observers of the state’s elections – there is no justification for changing voter laws in ways that restrict the ability to register and to vote.
"I think maybe the way to deal with this is to deal with it on the back end, which is from an enforcement standpoint. If you’re going to have same-day registration, that means you’re going to have to have rigorous enforcement after the election. It’s not going to change the outcome of the election but it could serve as a disincentive to those who might take advantage of New Hampshire's very lax requirement in terms of same-day registration."
Rep. Bates, meanwhile, has submitted more than 12 bills addressing voting laws, many involving the so-called domicile definition.
Under the N.H. Constitution, in order to vote in New Hampshire, a person must be “domiciled” here, meaning they must have “established a physical presence” in New Hampshire more than anywhere else and display “an intent to maintain a single continuous presence” here “for domestic, social and civil purposes.”
That's just too vague, suggested Gould.
“Literally someone can walk into a voting place, have in her or her mind at the time that he or she intends to live in that town, can vote and then walk out the door and change his or her mind," Gould said. "And that is not illegal under New Hampshire. And you can see how that could be abused."
Paul Twomey, an attorney who has served as legal counsel for House Democrats, said there have only been a handful -- about five -- cases of voter fraud in New Hampshire, but he agrees the domicile law needs clarifying. “We do have some problems in terms of the terminology we use around voting -- around 'residence' and 'domicile' and 'inhabitant'….I think that does cause some of the confusion, too.”
Still, attempts to address this in court have met with difficulty. In 2015, the N.H. Supreme Court struck down an attempt to require voters to be residents, rather than domiciled. Rep. Bates says he's acutely aware of that as he crafts his proposals, working to meet Constitutional muster. In the weeks ahead, his fellow lawmakers will weigh in on whether he's achieved that.