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Senate passes bill to redefine 'domicile' requirement to vote in NH

New Hampshire Union Leader

March 30. 2017 12:26PM
Sen. Jeff Woodburn, D-Whitefield, debates a voting reform bill March 30. (Dan Tuohy / UNION LEADER)

CONCORD — The Senate passed a bill Thursday to modify the definition of domicile, part of a Republican initiative targeting and attempting to deter voter fraud.

A person present in the state for temporary purposes "shall not gain a domicile for voting purposes," the bill reads.

Democrats argued it would disenfranchise voters and maintained there is no proof of widespread fraud in the state.

"No one will be denied the right to vote," said Sen. Regina Birdsell, R-Hampstead, as she introduced the bill.

Granite Staters want to preserve the integrity of election law, she said.

The Senate passed it on a 14-9 party-line vote.

Senate Minority Leader Jeff Woodburn, D-Whitefield, said if legislators truly believed there was widespread fraud, they would first support funding for investigators to confirm it.

He said the bill would be "a stink bomb tossed into the voting booth," with a stench that would not go away.

Supporters of the bill pointed out that Secretary of State Bill Gardner, a Democrat, backed the bill.
The bill holds that a person is in the state on a temporary basis unless they intend to make the place they reside the place, "more than any other, from which he or she engages in the domestic, social, and civil activities of participating in democratic self-government including voting, and has acted to carry out that intent.

"The temporary purposes described includes those in the state for less than 30 days for the purposes of tourism, visiting family or friends, performing short-term work, or volunteering or working to influence voters in an upcoming election.

College residency counts

One's intent to make a place an individual's domicile includes, but is not limited to, residency at a college or university, renting a place for more than 30 days, and obtaining a state driver's license.

A person registering to vote 30 or fewer days before an election would be required to provide the date they established their voting domicile in the state, and he or she would have to complete a registration form to identify and provide evidence of actions taken to demonstrate their domicile. If they have no documentation, they would be required to mail or present proof to the town or city clerk's office within 10 days of the election.

The supervisors of the checklist would be required, as soon as practical after the election, to follow up on those voters who failed to mail or present their domicile evidence. The local election officers would examine public records at town or city hall and, if necessary, request two or more supervisors, or their agents, to address and verify if the voter was legally at their domicile on election day.

Fraudulently registering to vote is subject to a $5,000 fine, while voting in more than one state, in the same election, is subject to a Class B felony with a maximum sentence of imprisonment not to exceed seven years and a $4,000 fine, according to the bill.

House Majority Leader Dick Hinch, R-Merrimack, said the legislation would help preserve the integrity of New Hampshire elections. He said he would work to get it passed in the House and sent soon to Gov. Chris Sununu for his signature.

"In a state where numerous elections have been decided by just a handful of votes, it is important to make sure that every ballot cast by an eligible voter is counted," Hinch said.

Form called confusing

New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley said the bill is an unconstitutional burden for legitimate voters.

"This bill cynically targets the most vulnerable citizens whose lives aren't neat and tidy enough to fit Republicans' narrow idea of who should be eligible to vote in our state," he said.

Zandra Rice Hawkins, executive director of Granite State Progress, called it a voter-suppression bill.

"Senate Republicans have made it official that they are willing to follow the baseless voter fraud claims of President Trump and make it more difficult for Granite Staters to vote," she said. "SB3 goes back to the days of a poll tax, by requiring a financial exchange for many of the ‘verifiable acts' for voting. It re-instates a literacy test, by using a lengthy form and prose that even longtime election experts have found confusing."

Sen. Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, was critical of the wording and length of the registration form. In the floor debate, which lasted almost 90 minutes Thursday, she said the voter line for election-day registration would stretch out the door.

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