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AG's office clarifies confusion over voter ID issue

By SHAWNE K. WICKHAM
New Hampshire Sunday News

September 16. 2012 1:40AM



If you don't have a photo ID, that doesn't mean you can't vote in New Hampshire come November.

That's the message the Attorney General's Office wants to put out, after complaints that voters in some communities were given inaccurate information about the state's new 'Voter ID' law during last Tuesday's primary election.

Anne Edwards, who oversees elections as chief of staff for the AG's Office, said about 15 municipalities, including Manchester, posted signs telling voters that photo IDs were required. That was wrong for Tuesday's election and it will be wrong in November, she said.

'What we're saying to voters is please come vote,' Edwards said. 'There is a process that's set up so that people who don't have a photo ID can vote, and they should come in.'

New Hampshire's new voter ID law, unlike those being challenged in courts in other states, allows those who do not have photo IDs to sign what's known as a 'challenged voter affidavit.'

Edwards said there seems to be some confusion among both voters and some election workers about the new law. The bottom line: 'They don't have to have an ID to vote.'

But she acknowledged, 'That message has hugely gotten lost' amid all the debate about such laws here and nationwide. And she said her office plans to work with the Secretary of State's office to put out information about what the law actually says.

'We have about six-and-a-half weeks … to get that message out to voters so that people understand,' Edwards said.

In addition to the affidavit provision, New Hampshire's law also allows local election officials to vouch for residents if they don't have identification, a last-minute addition pushed by the municipal clerks themselves, Edwards said.

Town and city clerks also have vouchers that voters can pick up and use to obtain free photo IDs at any Division of Motor Vehicles office before the Nov. 6 election, she added.

Last Tuesday's vote was meant to be a 'dry run' for the new law, with ballot officials asking voters if they had identification. It wasn't meant to require the IDs, Edwards said, but was supposed to give election officials a sense of how many voters may not have identification come November: 'So that we would have some type of idea of how many people might be coming in for a challenged voter affidavit in the fall or who might be asking for the free IDs.'

The new law did cause some voters to leave polling places without voting last Tuesday, Edwards said. 'As far as we can tell, no one didn't vote because they didn't have an ID, but some people didn't vote because they were so angry at the law that they left,' she said, noting there were reports of that in Londonderry and Merrimack.

But she said local officials also reported hearing from many voters who were happy with the new law.

After the November election, the Secretary of State's office will send verification letters to all voters who filled out challenged voter affidavits; if there's no response within 90 days, the Attorney General's Office will investigate whether fraudulent voting occurred, according to information posted on the Secretary of State website.

Edwards predicts most of those letters will prove that people voted legally.

If some letters are returned unopened, investigators from her office will try to track down those individuals.

In past investigations, there has never been any proof that voting fraud is a big problem in New Hampshire; such cases have been 'pretty rare,' Edwards said.

Still, she said, 'This does put a system in place that now has us checking these things, so that for people who really have concerns that there's fraudulent voting going on, we'll be able to track around and find people.'

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Shawne Wickham may be reached at swickham@unionleader.com.


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