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Sununu signs bill to plug voter 'domicile loophole' into law

By DAN TUOHY
New Hampshire Union Leader

July 10. 2017 5:49PM


Gov. Chris Sununu has signed a voter registration reform bill into law that Republicans say will protect the integrity of elections and Democrats call blatant voter suppression.

The bill targets what supporters label a domicile loophole for eligible voters. It seeks to bar anyone in the state for temporary purposes from claiming a domicile address for voting purposes.

“This legislation helps protect the integrity of New Hampshire’s electoral process,” said Sununu, R-Newfields. “As host of the first in the nation primary, New Hampshire has the obligation to ensure our system is beyond reproach. This bill does exactly that and as such, I signed SB3 into law today.”

According to the legislation, a person is in New Hampshire on a temporary basis unless they intend to make the place they reside the place that, “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,” the bill reads.

“No one will be denied the right to vote,” Sen. Regina Birdsell, R-Hampstead, a prime sponsor of the bill.

College residency, for example, does count under the statute. Critics argued the bill was meant to disenfranchise young voters.

New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley panned the bill as unconstitutional. Senate Minority Leader Jeff Woodburn, D-Dalton, called it a “stink bomb” thrown into the voting booth. Legislative passage got a leg up this spring, however, when Secretary of State William M. Gardner came out in support of it.

The American Civil Liberties Union of NH called the law "an attack on eligible voters' rights."

Gilles Bissonnette, legal director for the ACLU-NH, said a voter who fails to provide evidence of domicile within 10 days faces a fine of up to $5,000. "SB 3 is also a violation of voters' privacy by sending government agents to voters' homes to check their documents," he said. "Requiring people to accept this government intrusion as a condition of voting will chill the right to vote."

Bissonnette said Tuesday that the ACLU-NH is carefully reviewing the new law, but has yet to decide on any potential legal challenge to it.

Sununu signed the bill into law Monday, amid 17 other bills. Two of the bills were Senate Bill 248, which creates a committee to study the rescheduling of elections, and House Bill 552, relative to investigation of voter verification letters.

Controversy over rescheduling of elections came up in connection with a major snow storm March 14, which led to numerous communities to postpone town or school annual elections. The Secretary of State maintained the law prohibited postponement. Municipal lawyers argued state law provides the authority.

The committee is charged with studying under what circumstances the state, town or city, or school district should reschedule an election. The bill further seeks to clarify signatures on absentee ballots, in that the voter’s signature on the application must match the signature on the return envelope.

House Bill 552 requires the Secretary of State to conduct an inquiry regarding a letter of identity verification, if the letter is returned as undeliverable, or if the recipient fails to respond. It further requires the Secretary of State to investigate matches that may result from interstate comparisons of voter information.

(This story was updated Tuesday morning with a statement from the ACLU-NH.)


dtuohy@unionleader.com


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