June 01. 2017 8:28PM

Bill tightening voter registration requirements passes in the House

By DAVE SOLOMON
State House Bureau


CONCORD — A Senate-passed bill that modifies the definition of domicile to tighten up on voter registration in New Hampshire passed the House with amendments on Thursday, 191-162.

SB 3 has been the focus of efforts by the Republican majority in the state Legislature to eliminate what they call “drive-by voting” by non-residents such as campaign workers or tourists.

If the bill is signed into law by Gov. Chris Sununu as expected, a person registering to vote 30 or fewer days before an election would be required to provide the date they established their domicile in the state, and would have to complete a registration form to prove it.

Those who lack the required documents would still be allowed to vote, but would have to mail or present the proof to the town or city clerk’s office within 10 days after the election, or within 30 days if the clerk’s office is open fewer than 20 hours a week.

The supervisors of the checklist will be required to follow up on those voters who failed to mail or present their domicile evidence.

They could examine public records at town or city hall or, if necessary, deploy local officials to verify that the voter is legally at the address presented for registration.

The bill now goes back to the Senate to consider the House amendments, one of which makes it clear that college students would still be able to vote in New Hampshire elections if they meet the eligibility standards already in current law.

The House amendments also allow towns that don’t want to conduct the verification process locally to pass those cases off to the secretary of state.

Comments by state Sen. Regina Birdsell, R-Hampstead, primary sponsor of the bill, suggest the Senate will be quick to concur with the House changes.

“This legislation does nothing more than ask a resident to provide proof that they live where they say they do and provides an additional layer of protections, increasing the integrity of elections in the state of New Hampshire,” she said.

Sununu indicated he is ready to sign the bill if it lands on his desk.

“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 I commend the House of Representatives for their actions today,” he said.

Democrats argued that the bill is not necessary and will needlessly complicate the voting process.

“This legislation was clearly designed to placate those who buy into President Trump’s discredited assertion that fraud cost him the popular vote in New Hampshire,” said Minority Leader Steve Shurtleff, D-Penacook. “Leaders from both parties denounced those assertions, and as we know from the reports released following every single New Hampshire election, voter fraud is not an issue in our state.”

Some Republican representatives felt the bill doesn’t go far enough because individuals without the proper paperwork will still be allowed to vote on Election Day, although they will be removed from the checklist for the next election if their affidavit is not successfully verified.

“I will vote in opposition to SB 3 despite my belief that election reform is desperately needed,” said Rep. Bart Fromuth, R-Bedford. “If SB 3 passes and becomes law, anyone can still vote without providing documented proof of being a New Hampshire resident.”