If politics is New Hampshire’s state sport, then Election Day is our Super Bowl. So it is no surprise that legislators from both parties want to ensure the process is run honestly and effectively while maximizing participation. Unfortunately, state laws currently in place to achieve those goals have become political footballs over the last few years.
Some say that when the Democrats took charge of the Legislature in 2006, they moved the laws too far in one direction, by, for example, striking statutory language requiring that new registrants acknowledge they are not domiciled in any other state. Others argue that when Republicans regained the majority in 2010 we moved too far in the other direction by restoring the removed statutes and adding new ones asking voters to present an ID to obtain a ballot.
Now, with split party control of the Legislature, Democrats in the House have passed bills to return to their version of the law while Republicans in the Senate are seeking to protect the reforms enacted last year. As chairman of the Senate Public and Municipal Committee, I think we can find a middle ground through two bills being considered by the Senate today.
The first would amend the form a new voter is required to complete when registering. It would retain long-standing language reminding voters that they cannot vote in New Hampshire if domiciled elsewhere and that by registering they are declaring themselves citizens of our state and thus must abide by our laws. It would specify that this requirement means they may be required to, as opposed to must, register their cars subject to our motor vehicle laws. The Attorney General’s Office and the Secretary of State have told legislators that this simple amendment will be enough to satisfy a legal challenge related to recent changes to the registration form. We hope this amendment will return that part of the equation to settled law, as it had been for years prior to 2007.
The second bill deals with the more complex issue of what forms of ID are acceptable to prove identity to obtain a ballot. The legislation requiring election officials to ask voters for photo identification passed in 2012 and Phase One of the law was implemented for the 2012 general election. Accordingly, officials could accept a wide list of identifications from drivers’ licenses and passports to nearly every type of government issued ID and student IDs (contrary to what the Union Leader stated in an editorial that ran last week). Voters unable to produce any of these forms of identification were asked to fill out an affidavit swearing under penalty of law they were who they said they were and were then given a ballot. In spite of near-record turnout at the polls last November, and thousands of new registrants, election officials reported few, if any, problems implementing the new law.
Phase Two of the law is set to go into effect later this year. When it does, the list of acceptable forms of identification would be narrowed to four, and election officials will be required to take photographs of voters who do not have an ID and attach them to the voter’s signed affidavit. Some have raised concerns that this photo provision would lead to confusion and long lines at the polls. I tend to agree.
As a compromise, the Senate will consider an amendment that will delay the camera provisions for two years but permit the tightening of forms of identification to go forward. We believe this latter portion is important as the forms of ID that will be allowed have clear guidelines for how they are issued. For example, more precaution is taken in issuing a passport or driver’s license to someone than in issuing a library card or university ID. We believe this will help to enhance the security of our elections.
To help the implementation of this phase, the amendment will allow local election officials to accept other forms of photo ID as they deem necessary and permit those known to the election official to vote; both subject to a challenge from election observers. As is the case now, if a voter is unable to produce acceptable ID, he or she will still be allowed to vote after signing an affidavit.
We all want fair elections, and though we may from time to time disagree on the processes needed to ensure them, we should recognize a good compromise when it is before us.
Sen. David Boutin, R-Hooksett, is chairman of the Senate Public and Municipal Committee.