Mar 2, 2017 3:44 PM

NEW on NH1 News: Hearing Tuesday morning on crucial NH election reform bill


CONCORD – A much anticipated state Senate bill to tighten New Hampshire’s voting laws will get its first public airing early next week.

The measure, officially known as SB3, will be in front of the Senate Election Law and Internal Affairs Committee at 10am on Tuesday, the bill’s author and committee chair Sen. Regina Birdsell told NH1 News on Thursday.

The Republican state senator who represents Derry, Hampstead, and Windham indicated a vote on her replace-all amendment to an existing placeholder bill would probably come a week later, saying “I’m probably going to give it a week, but it’s really up to the committee.”

Birdsell told NH1 News that the top two Republicans in the chamber, Senate President Chuck Morse of Salem and Majority Leader Jeb Bradley of Wolfeboro are supportive of the bill, adding “I’m pretty confident that it will be getting through the Senate and making it to the House.”

The GOP holds a 14-10 majority in the state Senate.

While a slew of election law reform bills are working their way through both chambers, Birdsell’s measure is seen by many as the legislation that has the best chance of making it to the Corner Office.

Birdsell said the Secretary of State’s office will give her measure a thumbs up.

“I have spoken with the deputy secretary of state. They have been supportive of tightening up the domiciles in the past. I’m fully confident that they’ll be supportive of this,” she added.

As for Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, who’s been very supportive of tightening up the state’s election laws, Birdsell said “we’ll be talking with him in the next couple of days.”

What the measure includes

The second-term senator’s measure requires 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.

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 allow 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.

“If towns can’t verify the information, it will go back to the Secretary of State and AG’s office and you will be investigated,” Birdsell said.

“We’re using trust but verify methodology,” Birdsell explained. “You’re going to be required to show an intent and then couple that with a verifiable act or a proof of an act.”

Birdsell says her measure “really doesn’t affect students.”

Under her proposal, students who claim domicile in an on-campus dormitory or other housing could get a confirmation from their college or university. Students could also use a bill from the school to prove residency.

But Birdsell warned that students who come New Hampshire from out of state and claim domicile here must switch their voting registration from their home state to New Hampshire.

She cautioned that a student who comes to New Hampshire from another state and claims domicile in New Hampshire “must remember that we entered into the crosscheck program. If they are registered in another state, they need to be careful and switch their registration to New Hampshire.”

Details of Birdsell’s measure were first reported last week by WMUR’s John DiStaso.

Many conservatives have long pointed to the Granite State’s same day registration law, which they allege allows Democrats to game the system by bringing in non-residents to vote on Election Day. A couple of times since the November election President Donald Trump has made unsubstantiated claims that thousands of people bused in from Massachusetts voted illegally in the Granite State in last year’s election.

Trump lost the fight for the Granite State’s four electoral votes by just under 3,000 votes to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

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.”

Earlier this week New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley criticized Sununu for his earlier comments.

“I’m still waiting for the governor to apologize for insulting the voters of New Hampshire, the secretary of state and all those who participate in our elections,” Buckley said

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