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Hearing on changes to voter registration underway

New Hampshire Union Leader

August 27. 2018 8:49PM
Lucas Meyer, president of the New Hampshire Young Democrats, testifies at a hearing on Senate Bill 3 at Hillsborough County Superior Court in Manchester on Monday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER — Last year’s changes to voter registration laws went under a judicial microscope on Monday, when Superior Court Judge Kenneth Brown gaveled open a trial-like hearing that is scheduled to last up to seven days.

Court workers scrambled for extra chairs and tables to accommodate the 15 lawyers who were on hand for the hearing. The hearing will end when Brown rules on whether to issue an preliminary injunction to block the implementation of Senate Bill 3 until an eventual trial is held, likely next year.

The New Hampshire Democratic Party and the League of Women Voters are challenging the 2017 law, arguing that its provisions will deter college students, young people and homeless people from registering to vote.

Lawyers surrounded by laptops, computer monitors and boxes loaded with loose-leaf binders outnumbered the scant number of reporters and spectators.

“I’m surprised there’s not more people here,” said state Rep. David Bates, R-Windham, a former chair of the House Election Law Committee, who visited in the afternoon.

Last month, Associate Attorney General Anne Edwards said the hearing was starting to take on the appearance of a trial, and that was evident on Monday.

The witness list comprises 24 people, including Secretary of State William Gardner, his deputy David Scanlan, and their election-law lawyer, Orville “Bud” Fitch. Other potential witnesses: Attorney General investigators, college students and experts in political science and operational management.

115 exhibits are scheduled to be introduced, including election results in the past three state elections, communications between state and local election officials, news articles about voting issues, and President Trump’s tweets on voter fraud in New Hampshire.

One of the early witnesses was Lucas Meyer, president of the New Hampshire Young Democrats. He described new voter registration forms as confusing and intimidating to students and youth, and he predicted they would cause lengthy lines at the voter registration table on election day.

Under the SB 3 law, people registering to vote must provide proof that they are domiciled in New Hampshire. If they don’t have the proof and an election is soon, they can register to vote but must provide the proof — such as a driver’s license of college dormitory assignment — up to 10 days after an election.

If they have no such proof, they can vote but must acknowledge that they could be subject to an investigation.

The registration form also warns of a $5,000 fine for voter fraud.

Meyer said the fine would be “financially crushing” to a college student, but he also added he knew of no student who had not registered because of the new procedure.

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