Stricter voter ID requirements find few fans at hearing
CONCORD - No one spoke in favor of stricter voter identification requirements that go into effect later this year at a public hearing Wednesday.
Most people who spoke before the Senate Public and Municipal Affairs committee backed House Bill 595, which continues the voter identification requirements in place for the 2012 general election, although some said they would prefer the photo ID law be repealed altogether.
"The League of Women Voters believes the photo ID law is a complete waste of money and effort and only results in discouraging people from voting," said Joan Ashwell, the league's election law specialist. "The law creates barriers to voting when the government should be working to improve voting procedures."
For elections after September, the law restricts acceptable identification to state or federal IDs and requires election officials to photograph those who sign an affidavit because they did not have a photo ID.
HB 595 would block those provisions and others, allowing local election officials to identify people they know who do not have a photo ID or one that is acceptable.
However, House Republicans pushed to amend the bill to require a photo be taken if a person registering to vote does not have a photo ID and has to fill out a qualified voter affidavit.
Rep. Shawn Jasper, R-Hudson, said people in the state feel strongly that voting is a right, but also that only qualified voters should cast ballots.
"If everyone in the state of New Hampshire were honest," he told the committee, "the State of New Hampshire wouldn't have jails."
He said that between 1,700 and 4,200 people did not have photo identification during the last election and were sent letters to affirm their identity. "A lot of people never lived at the address they gave," he said.
The Attorney General's Office is in the process of verifying the legitimacy of those who voted and signed affidavits, but the process is not yet complete.
Many testifying in favor of the bill argued photographing those without the required identification would cause delays, increase the workload for elections officials and would be very costly for the state, and for the cities and towns that will have to pay for the cameras and printers as well as their upkeep and repairs.
But Jasper said "At what point is it too expensive to have legitimate elections in the state of New Hampshire?"
Many people testifying in favor of the bill said there is no evidence of voter fraud in New Hampshire since 2006. "What type of voter fraud are we trying to prevent," said Rep. Gary Richardson, D-Hopkinton. "The easiest way is to show a (fake) photo ID."
During the hearing, supporters of House Bill 595 said the second phase of the photo ID law would require retraining election officials, re-educating the public, would be costly to cities and towns and cause election-day delays and further disenfranchise elderly, disabled, poor and student voters.
Municipal Association lobbyist Cordell Johnston called the new provisions "rather extreme," singling out the need to photograph those without IDs and elimination of the provision that allowed election officials to identify voters they know without photo ID.
Jessica Clark of America Votes said the law has been far more costly than original estimates and implementing the second phase would cost nearly $1 million over the next four years.
The Town and City Clerks Association testified in favor of the bill, saying the second phase will cause long lines and delays.
Becky Benvenuti, Newmarket town clerk and the vice president of the clerk's association, said the new provisions will cause delays and create hardships that will disenfranchise qualified voters.
Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan said his office's chief concern during the first phase of the photo ID law was that no voter be turned away from the voting place or denied a ballot because they did not have a photo ID.
"It is hard to say how photo ID impacted the turnout," Scanlan told the committee, but he said the 2012 general election went as smoothly as his office could have hoped for.
He attributed some of the long lines for same day registration to the purge of the checklists that is required every 10 years.
The committee did not make a recommendation on the bill Wednesday.