State attorneys have been in court the past two weeks defending a new voter registration law known as Senate Bill 3.
The trial is part of an ongoing debate about voting rights in New Hampshire. NHPR's Casey McDermott has been following the issue closely. Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley spoke with McDermott about what happens next.
(Editor's note: this transcript has been edited lightly for clarity.)
Okay, first, can you remind us what this law is all about and what it changed to the voting registration process?
Sure. So let's step back to 2017. This passed when Republicans were in control of the state house and voting policy was a big issue during that session. This was one of the new laws that came forward.
And this one added new language and new steps to the voter registration process, basically asking people to prove that they live where they're trying to vote. So you could do that either by showing paperwork like mail or other kind of official forms that demonstrate that, or you can sign an affidavit that attests to the fact that you live where you're trying to vote. This new process would only change the process for people who are registering within the last 30 days before an election. So this was an issue that would substantially affect the large number of people who rely on election day registration in New Hampshire.
Can you give us a recap of the lawsuit? You know, who is suing the state and why?
Sure. So this was brought by the League of Women Voters of New Hampshire, the New Hampshire Democratic Party, and several college students who say that the law is too confusing and is likely to create problems in places where people rely heavily on election day registration. Those areas tend to be clustered around college campuses [or] in cities, and those are places that tend to vote heavily Democratic. Hence why, for example, the New Hampshire Democratic Party says that they would be affected by this law.
And what were some of the big questions that came up during that trial about voting laws?
Sure. So we should say this was a very long hearing. It lasted almost two weeks in total in Hillsborough County Superior Court. And some of the big questions that I walked away with as kind of central to the case were what level of effort should someone have to put into registering to vote? So, for example, what kind of work should you have to do to assemble paperwork, to register? What should you have to do if you're a college student to work with your university, to get the right documents, to prove, for example, that you live in on campus housing? Should you have to rely on help, maybe if you're not a college student, from a landlord or someone else who's in a position to provide documentation that you live at your current address?
Another key question that came up over and over again was how long should you expect to wait in line when you're registering to vote? There's kind of differing views on both sides of the case of what is a reasonable amount of wait time when you're at the polls. And that I expect to be kind of a central question moving forward.
There's also a question of whether this new law is really as burdensome as the challengers say it is. You know, throughout the course of the hearing, it became clear that none of the people who were coming forward saying that the law was confusing were actually prevented from registering to vote. So that's something that the state has been relying heavily on to defend the law, to say, look, people are saying that this is going to be problematic for people, but the people bringing the lawsuit haven't been able to point to any instance where someone has actually been blocked from voting.
So there's no specific case here, though, where somebody did get prevented from voting?
Exactly. And on the flip side of that, the challengers are saying that, look, this law was brought as a way to prevent so-called voter fraud, but there's no evidence that that is a serious issue. So one of the things the court is going to likely have to weigh is whether the prevention of voter fraud or protecting kind of the, quote, integrity of the elections is enough of a justification to add these new requirements to the voting process.
Okay. But Casey, as voters are heading to the polls for the primary in February, [which is] not far off now, what do they need to know about the registration process?
So this can be kind of confusing. Also, because there's another law that is tied up in court right now in a completely separate case. But the kind of short answer is, if you are 18 years old, if you're a citizen of the United States and if you live in New Hampshire and you're not voting anywhere else, you're not trying to vote in another state at the same time, you should be able to cast a ballot in the upcoming elections. There are some questions that still have to be resolved at a broader level about what, you know, other requirements you may have to follow as a result of casting a ballot. But that's the basics and that's unlikely to change between now and the primary.
And state officials aren't expecting any problems?
No, there's not going to be a ruling in this particular case over Senate Bill 3 before the presidential primary.