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August 28. 2011 10:41PM

Russell Prescott: Voter ID is needed, but we have to do it the right way

I support voter identification. I am a staunch believer that voting is a right, and that the people of New Hampshire and the United States deserve a voting system that protects “one person, one vote,” does not alienate voters and does not create confusion for poll workers and other officials.

A well-crafted voter ID bill will do all of the above. It greatly diminishes the ability of those with nefarious intent to engage in voter fraud, thus maintaining “one person, one vote.” It also assures that voters have the ability to vote on the day of elections with minimal interruption, and does not add unnecessary or confusing amounts of paperwork for election workers or the Secretary of State’s Office (the state’s chief election body).

However, legislators who vote on the law that eventually passes must consider the consequences of its implementation. If we pass a bill that is onerous to voters, election officials or the candidates themselves, then we jeopardize our standing in bringing meaningful reform in the future when such needs arise.

That is why I support Gov. John Lynch’s veto of Senate Bill 129, the voter ID bill currently in the Legislature.

When I ran for state Senate, I made it a point to speak to town clerks in the district, as well as other community officials, regarding issues that concerned them. I continued to do so while this bill was being processed. To a person, they are greatly concerned with a portion of the bill added by the Legislature that would introduce provisional ballots. It is a concern that Secretary of State Bill Gardner has, and one I also share.

With a provisional ballot, a person goes to the polls without identification and is allowed to vote, but the ballot is segregated for three days. In that time, the person has to bring in identification, or the ballot is tossed. However, town offices are only open certain times during the week, and this may mean people will not be able to bring their identification to town offices at the proper times. The plan also means elections cannot be declared until the provisional ballots are counted. If an election is close, will it hang on whether people can make it back to town offices with their identification?

Another concern is the paperwork and procedures that would have to be in place. Each of these factors listed below, expressed to me by town clerks, would lead to confusion and enhanced risk of counting and reporting errors:

— Where will the provisional ballots be secured?

— Will the provisional ballot box be opened before counting to sort the ballots of those who have returned with photo identification?

— Can a voter change his or her ballot since it has not yet been officially cast?

— How will the checklist be marked?

— What are the paperwork requirements for the secretary of state?

— Will there be an opportunity to challenge a provisional ballot?

— How will confidentiality of provisional ballots be assured or guaranteed?

In addition, what constitutes a “legal identification” is unclear in the bill. Some identification can be used, while others cannot (a state trooper can show police identification, but a local police officer cannot). This opens the state and municipalities to lawsuits and added expenses that could easily be avoided.

I support a proposal by Secretary of State Bill Gardner that would do the following: Have election officials in communities take digital pictures of those without identification, and have them sign an affidavit stating that they are who they say they are. I also believe we should clarify what would be acceptable identification.

Senate Bill 129 addresses many concerns, but the introduction of the provisional ballot makes it fatally flawed. I will vote to sustain the veto and, for the 2012 session, introduce voter ID legislation that addresses the concerns of town clerks and Secretary Gardner.

In conclusion, I want to reiterate my support for voter ID. However, this is a case where a bad bill is worse than no bill. Our credibility regarding clean elections relies on doing this right.

Russell Prescott is a Republican state senator from Kingston and co-owner of R.E. Prescott in Exeter.

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