State Attorneys: No Changes to Voter Registration Process Until Court Clarifies Instructions on SB3

Oct 24, 2018

A hearing to sort out voter registration rules for the upcoming midterms is scheduled for 2 p.m. at Hillsborough County Superior Court in Manchester.

This comes after state officials told the court they needed more clarification before making any changes to the voter registration process for the upcoming midterms, as a judge ordered them to earlier this week.

On Monday, Judge Kenneth C. Brown ordered New Hampshire officials not to use the new voter registration law known as Senate Bill 3 (or “SB3”) during the upcoming midterms. Instead, the Brown said, election officials should revert to using the registration paperwork from 2016.

“In granting this relief, the Court is mindful of the close proximity of the midterm elections,” Brown wrote in his order. “Nevertheless, the Court is confident that the Secretary of State’s office shall be able to ensure that the proper registration forms are distributed to all polling places throughout the state prior to the election.”

State election officials remained largely silent in the days that followed, issuing no instructions or updates to local pollworkers about the court order until Wednesday afternoon.

Then, just before 2:30 p.m. today, Secretary of State Bill Gardner and Attorney General Gordon MacDonald sent a memo to local election officials informing them that the state was filing motions to clarify — or, if needed, delay — Brown’s order on SB3.

That memo said the judge’s order “does not provide the clear or specific directives pertaining to the exact voter registration forms that are to be used in advance of Election Day.”

“Elections implicate our most fundamental constitutional rights,” the memo read. “Given the fundamental rights involved, we have no higher obligation than to provide clear, unencumbered guidance to local election officials regarding voting and voter registration on and before Election Day.”

The state followed up with two separate court motions Wednesday afternoon: One, filed in Hillsborough County Superior Court, sought clarification from Brown on several aspects of his ruling; another, filed with the New Hampshire State Supreme Court, sought to put Brown’s order on hold if he couldn't provide that clarification.

While the state says Brown instructed them to use the registration forms from 2016 on Election Day, they say he did not explicitly say how to handle registration before or after Nov. 6. Additionally, they said, he did not clearly state whether he sought to block all aspects of SB3.

If the court can't provide sufficient answers to the state's questions, state attorneys say SB3 should stay in place for November's elections.