October 25. 2014 7:57PM

Checking voter residence affidavits a slog for New Hampshire investigators

New Hampshire Sunday News

Two years after the last general election - and with midterm voting just nine days away - state officials are still investigating thousands of affidavits signed by people who voted without identification in 2012.

Anne Edwards, the associate attorney general who supervises elections, stressed New Hampshire's voter ID law is different than those in other states.

"What the law says is that election officials have a right to request that people be able to prove their identity, age, citizenship or domicile, and that's most easily done if somebody has an ID or has paperwork showing citizenship or mail showing domicile," Edwards said.

However, registered voters who don't have such documents can sign sworn affidavits attesting to their identity, address and qualification to vote.

This year, those registering to vote on election day can sign the same kind of oath on the voter registration form itself.

"And once they sign the oath and go through that, they are able to vote," Edwards explained.

The state follows up on every signed affidavit.

By law, the Attorney General's Office is required to send letters to voters who signed affidavits, asking them to return enclosed postcards within 90 days, confirming that they voted. It's a way of making sure those individuals used their real names and addresses when they voted.

If the postcards aren't returned, or the letters come back "undeliverable," officials conduct an investigation to determine whether fraudulent voting occurred.

Edwards said her office is still investigating thousands of people who didn't return postcards after the 2012 election - even as another round of affidavits is coming with the election next month.

According to the AG's Office, 13,939 individuals registered to vote in New Hampshire in the 2012 election by completing "domicile" affidavits. Of those, 1,193 letters were returned by the post office as undeliverable.In addition, 5,609 people signed "challenged voter" affidavits to vote in the general election that year. Of those, 1,698 did not return the postcards, including 374 letters that were returned as undeliverable.

Another 2,629 signed "qualified voter" affidavits in the primary and general election that year; 1,270 did not return the postcards, including 210 letters returned as undeliverable, according to the AG's Office.Some of those who did not return postcards have told investigators they were protesting the state's new Voter ID laws, Edwards said, noting many of those folks intentionally did not bring their IDs to vote.

"People have a right to do that," she said. "It's not against the law to protest."

Edwards said her office works with university officials, state police and others to try to verify the identity of those who voted after signing affidavits. "Finding people, especially in this age of cellphones when some people don't have land lines any longer is a challenge," she said, noting that's especially true of college students.

This year, however, Edwards hopes the process will go a little more smoothly. A new state law allows election officials to ask for a cellphone number or email address when someone registers to vote or signs an affidavit on election day.

And the new streamlined voter-registration form should reduce the number of affidavits new voters will have to sign, she said.If you do plan to vote on Nov. 4, acceptable forms of ID include a driver's license, non-driver ID card, armed services ID card, U.S. passport, New Hampshire student ID card or other photo ID determined to be legitimate by local election officials. And this year, local officials also can verify a voter's identity if they know the person.

Providing false information when registering to vote is a class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,000. Fraudulently registering to vote is also subject to a civil penalty of up to $5,000.

To date, the AG's Office has found only two individuals involved in voter fraud during the last election, Edwards said. One was a high school student in Milford "whose mother had completed his absentee ballot for him," she said.

The other was a man who pleaded guilty to illegally voting in New Hampshire, despite having lived in Massachusetts for more than two decades, according to the AG's office.