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Photo ID confusion riles polls

Union Leader News

May 17. 2011 10:41PM

CONCORD - A bill that would require photo ID cards of all voters hasn't even become law yet, but it raised an election dispute in New Boston on Tuesday.

The New Boston town clerk posted a sign telling all voters in a special election to present a photo ID to obtain a ballot, citing a pending bill in the Legislature. The move raised complaints from supporters of a Democratic candidate.

Town Clerk Irene Baudreau put the sign on the door of the New Boston Central School, Town Moderator Lee Nyquist said. It was in place for 3 1/2 hours, until 10:30 a.m. Nyquist said he ordered it taken down after a complaint from a supporter of Democrat Jennifer Daler of Temple. She ran against Peter Kucmas, R-New Boston.

The Attorney General's Office was called and has begun an investigation. Assistant Attorney General Matt Mavrogeorge would not discuss specifics of the case. The sign itself is being held by New Boston police.

It read, 'Per pending legislation you will be required to produce a photo ID in order to receive a ballot. Please have your photo ID ready before you approach the ballot clerk.'

Daler supporters said that at least one person left the polls without voting after seeing the sign. Nyquist said those who did not have an ID were allowed to vote, and were told of the pending law.

New Boston was one of five towns involved in an election to fill the seat that former Rep. Robert Mead, R-Mont Vernon, resigned in December. Temple, Mont Vernon, Wilton and Lyndeborough also voted.

Newfields Town Clerk Sue McKinnon, president of the New Hampshire City and Town Clerks Association, said the pending legislation has been discussed at regional meetings clerks hold in the spring.

'We've been informing membership about SB 129 and what might happen, but in no way have I or anyone else said we should be doing this kind of thing now,' McKinnon said.

Assistant Secretary of State Anthony Stevens said that the briefing at regional clerks meetings would not have led anyone to print a sign demanding ID cards.

'I'm not quite sure how someone would get that impression from the presentation.'

Powerpoint slides state that the House and Senate versions of the bill are 'quite different,' he said. They pointed out that both House and Senate will have to approve any compromise brokered in a committee of conference.

'It was pretty clear,' he said.

Baudreau was not available for comment Tuesday. Nyquist said she returned from the seminar saying 'it was suggested to have a rehearsal' for the new law.

Both the House and Senate have passed bills that will require voters to present a photo identification card at the polling place. Each bill allows voters to take alternate steps if they have no identification, but election officials worry the new procedures will bog down voting, delay results and raise costs. The bills would not put the law into effect until November 2012, allowing voters to get used to the requirement over the next few elections.

House members are now proposing to allow voters to present a variety of IDs other than New Hampshire driver's licenses. They would include student photo IDs from state colleges and out-of-state driver's licenses.

Democrats protested that the bill would treat students at private colleges as a separate class of voters, even if they live in New Hampshire. They also worry about the elderly who have every right to vote, but have given up their driver's licenses.

Rep. David Bates, chairman of the House Election Law Committee, said all voters can obtain alternate IDs at no cost under the bill.

Bates said the measure is not a cure-all for voter fraud. It is only intended to stop voters from claiming to be someone they are not. An out-of-state license would carry a name and a photo, so the identity would be clear.

The bill addresses the one confirmed case of voter fraud in the state, in which a Londonderry youth voted by claiming to be his father.

'We hope to look at other forms of voter fraud and to bring legislation to address them as well, but they will be a lot more complicated,' Bates said.

State Republican Party spokesman Christine Baratta said 'there seems to be a rush to judgement' over the New Boston incident. 'No one has been denied the right to vote in New Boston.'

State Democratic Party spokesman Harrell Kirstein said, 'Law-abiding New Hampshire citizens were discouraged from voting this morning.' He called SB 129, 'a terrible bill. … It creates new barriers between people and the voting booth and it doesn't solve any real problems.'

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