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Heated hearing for bill to plug voter 'domicile loophole'

New Hampshire Union Leader

April 18. 2017 12:20PM
Sen. Regina Birdsell, R-Hampstead, the prime sponsor of SB 3. (Dan Tuohy / UNION LEADER)

CONCORD — Secretary of State Bill Gardner said a controversial bill to tighten up domicile language for eligible voters is a small step to preserve the integrity of elections.

"It's not trying to scare people away," Gardner said during a public hearing Tuesday..

Sen. Regina Birdsell, R-Hampstead, the prime sponsor of Senate Bill 3, said the proposed change in state law would not deny anyone the right to vote.

Sen. Regina Birdsell, R-Hampstead, the prime sponsor of Senate Bill 3, said the proposed change in state law would not deny anyone the right to vote..

It would establish "a trust but verify system for same-day voter registration, ensuring that anyone who shows up at the polls is able to vote provided they show proof of domicile that day or agree to follow up with the town within 10 days," she said. (See related editorial, Page A6)

Some local election officials disagreed with Gardner's take.

Christopher T. Regan, the moderator in the town of Durham, questioned whether the legislation represented an unfunded mandate, in that town agents would be tasked with following up and tracking down voters who completed affidavits attesting they were qualified voters.

Frances Taylor, a former member of the Holderness supervisors of the checklist, said the bill would place a new burden on local officials. She said it reminded her of when she was a camp counselor giving bed checks to young campers.

"New voters don't need to be harassed," she said. "Down with bed checks."

The Senate passed the bill, along a party-line vote, last month. The House Election Law Committee, which is conducting today's hearing on it, could take action and vote for its recommendation this week.

Gilles Bissonnette, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire, testified against the bill, calling it an additional criteria that amounts to a disenfranchising impact for voters.

The ACLU-NH and other critics, including the New Hampshire Democratic Party, maintain the bill would effectively criminalize those who are unable to or fail to submit documents to prove they are domiciled in the state at the time of the election.

Several speakers testifying against the bill said it was unnecessary because there is a lack of evidence of widespread voter fraud in New Hampshire.

President Donald Trump, and his adviser Stephen Miller, claimed after the election that major fraud existed in the Granite State, but they did not produce any proof.

The Durham Town Council on Monday passed a resolution urging the House Education Committee to recommend the full House of Representatives kill the bill. The resolution reads, in part, "We believe that SB 3 serves to inhibit legally established citizens from voting and makes the process of registering said new voter applicants and verifying the information provided by said individuals an unnecessary, overly onerous, unachievable, and unfunded task downshifted to local officials."

State Rep. Wayne Burton, D-Durham, said the bill would create an "administrative nightmare" for towns and cities, and not just college towns like his.

Ray Chadwick of the Granite State Taxpayers spoke in favor of the bill. He said the new, proposed language for residency and proof of domicile is not a high bar for eligible voters to meet.

"Nobody is being disenfranchised from voting," he said.

Gail Kinney, a pastor with United Church of Christ in Meriden, opposed it. She said the right to vote "is a sacred right."

Bryan K. Gould, a Concord attorney and a former vice chairman of the Republican State Committee, said the bill seeks to address what supporters called the obvious, that it is easy for someone who does not live in New Hampshire to vote in the state.

Rep. William Pearson, D-Keene, in questioning one speaker, said the bill, should it be passed and signed into law, appears to be heading for a court challenge.

House Republican leadership supports the bill. House Majority Leader Dick Hinch, R-Merrimack, said it is important to maintain confidence in the electoral process.

"SB 3 seeks to eliminate drive-by voting by clearly defining domicile," Hinch said. "It will treat every voter equally and ensures everyone who shows up to the polls has an opportunity to vote if they are qualified."

Gov. Chris Sununu, R-Newfields, has expressed support for tightening the definition of domicile and passage of the election reform. Gardner said the voter registration form would virtually be the same. "This bill still lets a person who shows up at the polls the right to vote," he said.

The longest-serving secretary of state in the nation said the proposed changes would not erode voter turnout. He said New Hampshire's perennial high participation rate shows high confidence in the integrity of the elections.


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