Testimony In Voting Law Trial Focuses On Potential Impact On N.H. Electorate | New Hampshire Public Radio

Testimony In Voting Law Trial Focuses On Potential Impact On N.H. Electorate

Dec 4, 2019

Credit Michael Brindley/NHPR

A trial over the voter registration law known as Senate Bill 3 continued in Hillsborough County Superior Court on Wednesday.

The League of Women Voters of New Hampshire and the New Hampshire Democratic Party are suing the state over the 2017 law, which added new language to voter registration forms and new steps to the process asking people to prove they live in the community where they’re trying to vote.

Among the witnesses called Wednesday was Dartmouth Professor Michael Herron, who was hired by the plaintiffs to analyze the landscape of wrongful voting cases in New Hampshire and potential effects of the new law. Based on that analysis, Herron said there’s no proof that the problem SB3 was designed to address — wrongful voting —  is a serious issue in New Hampshire. Herron said his analysis of voting and demographic data suggests that the law would disproportionately burden people who register to vote on the day of an election.

“Individuals who use same-day voter registration tend to be young, mobile and less wealthy,” he said, “and that means the burdens of SB3 are disproportionately on those sort of individuals.”

The state’s attorneys argued that Herron’s analysis was limited on several fronts, including the fact that it did not take into account pollworkers’ ability to use discretion in accepting different kinds of documentation beyond the items specified in the law. Assistant Attorney General Anthony Galdieri pointed out that some college towns, for example, accept paperwork showing students’ addresses.

Under questioning from Galdieri, Herron acknowledged that his analysis did not identify any voter who was disenfranchised as a result of the new law.

In the days ahead, the state’s attorneys also plan to call their own outside witness to further rebut Herron’s testimony.

Also testifying on Wednesday was Hanover Town Clerk Betsy McClain, who recounted the challenges she encountered during the 2018 elections trying to help voters understand the new language added to the voter registration forms under SB3. Under questioning from one of the state’s attorneys, McClain said she was not aware of any voter who did not vote because of the new law.

The final witness of the day was Mary Beth Gentleman, a Massachusetts attorney who has participated in election protection efforts for the New Hampshire Democratic Party. Gentleman said she witnessed long lines of exasperated voters at Nashua’s Ward 1 polling place, where she was stationed during the 2018 general election. Over the course of several hours, Gentleman said she watched the line stretch outside and around the building, overheard several voters worrying about not being able to wait because of childcare obligations or other responsibilities, and watched five people leave.

When cross-examined by one of the state’s attorneys, Gentleman said she could not say with certainty that none of the people who left came back later to complete the voting process. The state’s attorneys also raised questions about the relevance of Gentleman’s testimony, pointing out that she was watching the polling place as a whole —  not just the same-day registrants —  and could not account for the exact amount of time it took a new voter to make their way through the registration process.

The trial is scheduled to continue into next week, but a ruling won’t be issued until after the New Hampshire presidential primary in February.