Apr 21, 2017 11:53 AM
CONCORD – Republicans in the state House of Representatives have been anything but unified in recent weeks over the budget and a high profile Right to Work bill, but the GOP leadership in the chamber’s confident that they’ll be able to pass a much argued about election law reform bill.
“We do support this and I think in the final analysis we will pass the bill,” House Deputy Majority Leader John Graham said on the latest edition of NH1 Newsmakers.
And earlier this week Majority Leader Dick Hinch, in an interview with NH1 News, predicted that the measure will “pass the House.”
The bill, officially known as SB3, mandates that anyone who registers to vote either prior to or on Election Day itself, thanks to the state's same-day registration law, present definitive proof that they reside in the Granite State.
People who fail to provide such identification could still vote, but would be required to read and sign a form, and then provide proof of domicile 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. If those documents aren’t provided the deadline, provisions in the bill allow town clerks or other local officials to pay a home visit to obtain a voter’s proof of residency. Another provision that would have allowed police to knock on new voter’s doors to verify their addresses elicited a lot of push back and was removed from the bill during the Senate committee process.
The bill, which was authored by GOP Sen. Regina Birdsell of Hampstead, passed through the state Senate last month along party lines, with all 14 Republicans supporting the measure and the 9 Democrats in the chamber opposed.
Supporters say the legislation will help ensure that only people who actually live in the Granite State vote here, cutting down on what they say is voter fraud. But opponents say the measure will disenfranchise voters.
Tuesday, the House Election Law Committee held a lengthy hearing on the bill in Representatives Hall. The committee’s not expected to vote on the measure until the first week in May.
House GOP divisions
The House Republican caucus was anything but unified in recent months when it came to other high profile showdowns. Two months ago a bunch of GOP representatives teamed up with the chambers Democrats to defeat a Right to Work bill that had earlier passed the Senate. And two weeks ago it was a similar story, as more than 30 Republicans joined Democrats to kill the budget. It was the first time in memory that a spending plan hammered out by the Finance Committee failed to pass the full House.
But Graham said on this issue, the House Republicans are united “because it’s something that has been of high priority to our party for a while now to define who is actually living in the state and who should be able to vote here, in all of our elections from local through presidential.”
It was a similar message from Hinch, who said “I think at the end of the day once and for all, putting voter integrity in front of the voters of the state of New Hampshire is important for the Republican caucus.”
Some of the most conservative lawmakers in the majority GOP caucus argue that the bill doesn’t go far enough, especially when it comes to voting by out of state students attending New Hampshire universities and colleges. One of those members is state Rep. Al Baldasaro of Londonderry. But he told NH1 News at the beginning of the week that he supported the measure as “a good start." The next day he testified in favor of the bill at the committee hearing.
Just as their colleagues in the state Senate opposed the measure, so do House Democrats.
Joining Graham on NH1 Newsmakers, House Minority Leader Steve Shurtleff said “I think it’s fair to say the Democrats will be opposed.”
And Shurtleff predicted that some of the chambers independents and libertarians would also vote against the bill, especially “those that are concerned about privacy and rights. You’re putting down your driver’s license number and all this information that you have to make available to a ward moderator, it just goes beyond the pale.”
Republicans currently hold a 221-173 majority in the House, with on Libertarian member and five vacant seats.
If the bill passes the House, Republican Gov. Chris Sununu has said he’ll sign it into law.
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