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Mar 21, 2017 11:52 AM

Battle over voter fraud: Bill to tighten NH's election laws clears first showdown

NH1.COM

CONCORD – A Republican supported state Senate bill that would tighten New Hampshire’s voting laws cleared its first legislative hurdle on Tuesday.

The bill was approved by the Senate Election Law and Internal Affairs Committee, with all three Republicans on the panel voting in support of the measure, and the two Democrats opposed to the legislation.

One of the three Republicans on the committee, Sen. Andy Sanborn of Bedford, told NH1 News after the vote that “New Hampshire’s voter laws are so incredibly lax, we let anybody vote, anywhere, anytime.”

But Senate Minority Leader Jeff Woodburn, one of the two Democrats on the panel, disagreed, telling NH1 News “I think this bill does nothing but harass and intimidate and create long lines and discourage voter participation.

The bill, which was formally introduced two weeks ago by GOP Sen. Regina Birdsell, who’s chairs the committee, will now face a vote next week in the full state Senate, where the GOP holds a 14-10 majority.

Some conservatives have long pushed for tightening up New Hampshire’s voting laws, accusing Democrats of gaming the system by taking advantage of the Granite State’s same day registration law. But the issue of voter fraud grabbed nation attention in recent months when President Donald Trump made unsubstantiated claims that thousands of people bused in from Massachusetts voted illegally in the Granite State in last year’s election.

What the bill would do

The measure, officially known as SB3, says that anyone who registers to vote either prior to or within 30 days of an election, or on Election Day itself thanks to the state's same-day registration law, present definitive proof that they reside in the Granite State.

“Regardless of whether you register in advance of 30 days or within 30 days or same day, all the same documents are going to be required,” Birdsell told NH1 News earlier this month.

People who fail to provide such identification could still vote, but would be required to provide proof of residency to city and town clerks within 10 days of voting, or 30 days for towns where offices are only open once a week.

That’s a quicker time period requirement than current election law dictates. Provisions in her bill allowed town clerks, the Secretary of State’s office, and even police on a routine patrol to pay a home visit to obtain a voter’s proof of residency.

The provision that police could knock on new voter’s doors to verify their addresses elicited a lot of push back. Two weeks ago on NH1 Newsmakers, state Sen. Majority Leader Jeb Bradley predicted that provision would be dropped, and it was prior to Tuesday’s hearing.

But provisions that allow two or more checklist supervisors or “other municipal officials” to visit a voter’s address to verify domicile remain in the measure.

State Sen. Donna Soucy of Manchester, the number two Democrat in the chamber, also voted against the measure.

New Hampshire Secretary of State William Gardner, a former Democratic lawmaker who’s the longest serving secretary of state in the nation, testified in support if the bill, as did deputy Secretary of State Dave Scanlan, a Republican.

Woodburn says bill ‘purely political’

Arguing against the bill, Woodburn told NH1 News that “I’m a school teacher. I know those students whose parents don’t have stable homes and are moving around. Those are the people who we want to invite into our democracy, not harass, but welcome them in.”

And he charged that “this is purely political. It’s based on the ruse that Donald Trump has created that there’s illegal voting in the state of New Hampshire that undermines every single elected official in our first-in-the-nation primary, and I think it’s important that we speak in the New Hampshire way and stand up for our local elected officials and our democracy here in New Hampshire.”

“This is a national agenda item to try and depress voters that they think are more likely to vote Democratic,” the lawmaker from the North Country added.

Woodburn admitted that the Republicans likely have the votes to pass the bill next week in the full Senate, but said “hopefully in the House commonsense where local elections are much more a part of the fabric of legislators, many of them are municipal officials. They see how great a job we do in the state of New Hampshire. And I’m more hopeful that big money, big politics, national trends, will not be as powerful as we witnessed with the right to work vote.”

Sanborn: ‘We let anybody vote’

Birdsell, Sanborn, and Sen. James Gray of Rochester all voted for the measure.

In supporting the bill, Sanborn said “we have to protect every single voter and their right to vote if they’re eligible, which means we have an equal obligation to protect to make sure there are not people voting who should not be eligible or are not eligible.”

Asked about the President’s claims of massive voter fraud in New Hampshire, Sanborn answered “there’s some level of fraud, because the Secretary of State has confirmed that they’re bringing people up on (voter fraud) charges. Now relative to the President and his claim, I don’t believe there’s widespread voter fraud, but part of that is because New Hampshire’s voter laws are so incredibly lax, we let anybody vote, anywhere, anytime. So our voting laws are just completely wide open.”

“Anyone can show up on any day from anywhere anyhow, even without an ID, and still vote in New Hampshire elections. And the question is does the general public still believe there’s integrity if we continue to allow that,” added the conservative lawmaker.

Sununu supportive

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu has been very supportive of tightening up the state’s election laws.

Just days before the November election, then-GOP gubernatorial nominee Sununu told conservative radio host Howie Carr “there’s no doubt there’s election fraud here and they’re kind of – I don’t want to use rigged, that’s like the word you’re not supposed to use anymore – but they have really gamed the system in their advantage.”

But three weeks after the election, Sununu, who beat Democratic gubernatorial nominee Colin Van Ostern by around 17,000 votes, said he didn’t believe there was voter fraud. And in an interview with NH1 News in December, he said “we don’t have fraud in this state but we do have laws that are a little bit loose. There’s a lot of gray area. A lot of room for interpretation about who’s a resident.”

The state Senate Election Law and Internal Affairs Committee meets on March 21, 2017

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