House-Senate talks on voter ID bill quickly break down, but agreement still possible
CONCORD -- A student identification card will no longer be a valid ID for voting in New Hampshire as of Sept. 1, after talks on the contentious issue between House and Senate negotiators quickly broke down Monday.
"We're at the position where we have to agree to disagree," said Rep. Gary Richardson, D-Concord, after a brief, fruitless conference committee session on House Bill 595.
It is possible that the talks can be revived and agreement reached before a 12 noon Thursday deadline, when all committee of conference reports must be submitted.
Richardson said that is unlikely, but Sen. David Boutin, R-Hooksett, said it is not out of the question.
"There may not be a (final commiteee of conference) report filed just yet," Boutin said. "We're still waiting to see what might germinate."
If agreement is not reached, the current law, passed a year ago by what was then a GOP-dominated Legislature over the veto of Democratic Gov. John Lynch, will remain in effect and student IDs will no longer be an acceptable form of voter ID as of Sept. 1.
This year's Democratic-controlled House, in its original bill passed in March, tried to keep student IDs as acceptable forms of voter ID. But the Republican-controlled Senate in May amended the House bill, and restored the list to the fewer items that will be allowed under existing law in September. Among the items eliminated by the Senate was student IDs.
A Senate committee called for allowing local voting officials discretion through September 2015 to decide whether a form of ID not on the statutory list, including a student ID, is legitimate. But that discretionary provision was eliminated in the final Senate-passed version.
Before the talks abruptly ended Monday, Boutin offered to make that provision permanent, but the House conferees rejected it, insisting that student IDs should be specifically allowed to continue as a valid, indisputable form of ID, without the need for local officials' discretion to come into play.
"If I was the House, I would have grabbed onto that," Boutin said afterward. "I thought it was a perfectly reasonable proposition. But they didn't."
Also under current law, which remains in effect as a result of the impasse, beginning in September, anyone who comes to a polling place without a valid form of ID must fill out a "challenged voter affidavit." The law requires the local elected official to then take a photograph of the voter and attach it to the affidavit.
Anyone who objects to having a photo taken for religious reasons will be exempted.
The House bill eliminated the photograph requirement, but the Senate bill restored it, while putting it off for two years, until Sept. 1, 2015.
The legislators' failure to reach a compromise means the requirement of a photograph will also go into effect in September of this year, in time for November municipal elections in Manchester, Nashua, Concord, Laconia and other communities.
And unless lawmakers address the issue next year, current law and the photograph requirement will be in effect in next year's September primaries and November general election.
Rep. Kathleen Hoelzel, R-Raymond, said giving local officials discretion to determine acceptable forms of ID can lead to a different set of ID rules from one community to another.
"One piece of paper being OK for one person but not for the next person sets up two forms of ID," she said.
"One moderator might be more lenient than another and then you have major disparities," said Rep. Mary Ann Knowles, D-Hudson.
After the meeting, Rep. David Cote, D-Nashua, chairman of the House Election Law Committee, said that while the Senate's position on student IDs prevailed "in this venue, I'm not so sure legally it will.
"We have some pretty serious concerns about the impact this will have on the constitutional right of students and other people to vote," Cote said. "And that was the crux of the problem.
"Unfortunately, the Senate chose not to discuss those things, so we are where we are."
Cote also said the requirement to have photographs taken of some voters at polling places will cause long lines other problems, and, "I would hope there will be time to review the impact of that so we might do something in the intervening period" prior to the 2014 election.
"It's very problematic," Richardson said. "There are people who have student IDs but for whatever reason do not have a driver's license for identification.
"I think that if they are denied a right to vote, it is a constitutional issue," Richardson said.
After Sept. 1, he said, "election officials are going to have to get into the photography business and take pictures of people that don't have a photo IDs."
Richardson said the "law will go into effect as it was passed during Bill O'Brien's reign," referring to the Republican former House speaker.
He noted the cost for purchasing the photography equipment is more than $80,000, in addition to an annual cost of about $80,000 to "hire a staff person and go through the process.
"There's no money in the Senate budget or the House budget for this," Richardson said. "So, where is the money going to come from?"
Richardson said that ultimately, the only way to change the status quo will be "a new election."
Under current law, current forms of valid ID are:
- A driver's license issued by New Hampshire or any other state.
- A nondriver's identification card issued by the state Division of Motor Vehicles.
- A U.S. armed services identification card.
- A U.S. passport, even if expired.
- Any other valid photo identification issued by the federal, state, county or municipal governments.
- A valid student identification card
- Any other form of ID determined to be "legitimate" by local election officials.
But as of September, under current law, the valid list of acceptable IDs for voting will shrink to:
- A driver's license
- A nondrivers identification card issued by the motor vehicles division of any state.
- A U.S. armed services identification card.
- A U.S. passport
- A challenged voter affidavit.