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Apr 17, 2017 3:53 PM

Showdown over controversial voting rights bill moves to state House


CONCORD – Is election law reform the issue that unites Republicans in the state House of Representatives?

House Majority Leader Dick Hinch tells NH1 News that he thinks the bill approved by the state Senate will also “pass the House.”

Hinch spoke with NH1 News on Monday, the day before the battle over the measure that would tighten New Hampshire’s voting laws by adding new requirements to prove eligibility moves to the House.

The House Election Law Committee holds a 10am Tuesday hearing in Representatives Hall on the much-argued about measure.

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.

READ: Up to 458 people may possibly be investigated for voter fraud in NH

With Republican Gov. Chris Sununu supportive of the bill, the spotlight now shifts to the House, where Hinch is confident of passage. The majority leader told NH1 News the House GOP “leadership is fully behind it and I believe the caucus is fully behind it as well and I think it will pass the House.”

While he said some House conservatives may not like the bill because they don’t think it goes far enough, Hinch pointed out that “voter integrity is a mainstay of the Republican caucus.”

“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,” Hinch added.

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 House. 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.

One of the arguments by conservatives against the bill is that it doesn’t go far enough, especially when it comes to voting by out of state students attending New Hampshire universities and colleges.

Conservative state Rep. Laurie Sanborn of Bedford, one of the co-chairs of the House Republican Alliance who opposed the budget, told NH1 News she doesn’t have a stance yet on SB3.

State Rep. JR Hoell of Dunbarton, a leader of the House Freedom Caucus, which also opposed the budget, told NH1 News there is compelling evidence that New Hampshire citizens are having their votes diluted by out of state voters.”

And he added that “you’ve got a much broader swatch of Republicans” who are in agreement on this issue compared to the budget or Right to Work.

As with their Senate counterparts, House Democrats are unified in opposition to the bill. House Majority Leader Steve Shurtleff recently told NH1 News “I think that we have many Republicans in the House that could see it the way that we do.”

But a House Democratic source close to leadership said it would be tougher to convince Republican representatives to break with their party over election law reform than it was over the budget or Right to Work.

“We’ll have to wait until after the hearing to see the lay of the land,” said the source, who added that “there are still some sane Republicans.”

The New Hampshire Young Democrats told NH1 News they’ll be out in force at the Statehouse Tuesday to protest the bill. They say students from universities and colleges across the state will attend the hearing, with some testifying against the measure.

And in an email to supporters Monday afternoon, the New Hampshire GOP wrote “Please join your fellow Republicans in Concord tomorrow morning (April 18) at 10:00 AM to support Election Law reform by supporting SB3.”

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