UPDATED: NH Senate, House approve voter ID plan allowing student IDs; Hassan expected to sign
By JOHN DiSTASO Senior Political Reporter
CONCORD -- Student identification cards are restored as a permanent valid form of identification for voting purposes under a compromise agreement approved by the New Hampshire Senate and House Wednesday and is now on its way to the governor.
The House voted 231-121 to support the committee of conference report agreed to last week. It was a strongly partisan vote, with 197 Democrats and 34 Republicans favoring changing the current law while all of those opposed to the change were Republicans.
The Senate vote was 14-10 in favor, but with the Republican majority opposing the compromise by a margin of 10-3.
Senate President Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, and Sens. Nancy Stiles, R-Hampton, and Bob Odell, R-Lempster, joined all 11 Democrats in backing the compromise. Among the Republicans who opposed the committee of conference report was Sen. David Boutin, R-Hooksett, who had been a key player in negotiating the plan and signed off on it last week.
Boutin did not speak on the Senate floor, but had told the New Hampshire Union Leader on Tuesday that he had changed his mind based on "new information," which he did not detail. Also prominently opposed to the compromise were Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley of Wolfeboro, and Sen. Andy Sanborn of Bedford, two Republicans who are considered possible contenders for higher office, such as the U.S. Senate and governor, next year.
Unexpectedly, there was little debate in the Senate on the compromise plan.
Opposing the bill was Sen. Russell Prescott, R-Kingston, who supported the current law, which eliminates student IDs as a valid form of voter ID as of September of this year and requires local officials to take photographs of those who do not present acceptable forms of ID at the voting place.
Prescott said the current law does not discourage students from voting, and the change would result in "an increased opportunity for fraud and confusion at the polls."
"As a father of five, all of whom went to college and reside or domiciled in either Manchester or Durham, I understand the issue better than most. The last thing I wanted to see was any of my children disenfranchised from voting," he said.
But Sen. Bette Lasky, D-Nashua, said, “Why would we let a small group who were removed from office in the last session, why would we let them dictate policy?”
She called it “a true and honest compromise.”
In the House, Rep. Pam Tucker, R-Greenfield, said the plan "will weaken our law and dilute your vote."
But Rep. Gary Richardson, D-Hopkinton, defended the compromise, charging, "The paranoia and hysteria and misinformation about this bill is absolutely rampant."
Gov. Maggie Hassan's spokesman on Tuesday said she belives the current law should be fully repealed, "but she appreciates that the compromise reached by the Legislature will save local communities the burden of costs for cameras, prevent long lines at the polls, and alleviate confusion about permissible forms of identification."
Earlier this year, the Democratic-led House originally restored all student IDs in its version of House Bill 595, but the Republican-controlled Senate removed them, effective Sept. 1, instead proposing to leave it up to local officials to judge whether forms of identification not specifically on a honed-down statutory list are legitimate.
But the Senate GOP appeared to change its position on student IDs at the committee of conference table, agreeing to restore student IDs and putting off the requirement of having local officials taking photos of challenged voters until September 2015.
Conservatives complained that the Senate GOP had "caved-in" to the House Democrats.
The plan that passed the Senate and House Wednesday specified that the "valid student identification card" must include a photo and be issued by "a college, university, or career school in New Hampshire and approved to operate or licensed to operate in New Hampshire."
The committee of conference report also specified that identification cards issued by the state university system and Dartmouth College are also acceptable.
Also acceptable under the proposal are cards issued by any public high school in the state or non-public high schools "accredited by a private school accrediting agency that is recognized" by the state Department of Education.
In addition to student IDs, the proposal would continue to require a driver's license, an armed services identification card, or a United States passport or passcard.
The agreement also allows local election officials to verify the identity of any prospective voter who does not present a valid ID.
Any voter whose identity is challenged must fill out a challenged voter affidavit swearing to his or her identify. A requirement under the current law that local officials must take a photograph of anyone who does not present a valid ID and as a result fills out a challenged voter affidavit would be put off until after September 2015 under the committee of conference report.
But legislation is expected to be filed next year to remove the photo-taking requirement permanently.
In the House, Rep. Dick Marston, R-Manchester, said the bill began "as a bad piece of legislation and the amendment only makes it woefully worse."
"Any rightful voter who forgets his ID would not object to having his picture taken," he said. "I wouldn't."
Rep. Dan Itse, R-Fremont, said the "zeal" to broaden the means of allowing people to vote is "a mere political ploy, a sham, a roues, unless we carry out with equal zeal the desire to protect the value and integrity of that vote."
Rep. George Lambert, R-Litchfield, said the four forms of valid voter ID under current law "is the same requirement for purchasing alcohol."
Republican Tucker said that during the last election, there were a total of 4,250 challenged voter affidavit verification letters sent by the state that were either returned undeliverable or not returned at all.
"In our small House districts, a few votes really do matter. Some of us could very well be here fraudulently," Tucker said.
Democrat Richardson said that with the Attorney General's Office following up on the unreturned letters, "It does not make any sense to go into the second phase of this laws to go to the second phase of this law."
Richardson also said there were only 374 letters that were returned undeliverable, adding, "There has been absolutely no fraud that has been proven anywhere. We should not be doing anything to deprive people of that right (to vote) until there is a proven need to do so."
He called the bill "a vast improvement over what we have right now."