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February 21. 2012 8:59PM

Senate panel backs bill to require photo ID at polls

CONCORD — A Senate committee Tuesday backed a bill requiring a photo identification card for voters to cast their ballots.

The Senate Public and Municipal Affairs Committee voted 4-1 to back Senate Bill 289, which requires a registered voter to present valid photo identification at the polls.

Supporters of the measures said a recent incident during the presidential primary using the names of dead people to obtain ballots shows there are flaws in the current system. They said the process is too lenient, allowing out-of-state students and other short-time residents to vote.

Opponents argue the bill targets the elderly, the disabled, low-income individuals and students and say the restrictions, no matter how narrow, would prevent some from voting and discourage many more from going to the polls.

Sen. Amanda Merrill, D-Durham, was the lone vote in the committee opposing the bill.

During the executive session she commended the bill’s prime sponsor, Sen. Russell Prescott, R-Kingston, for changes he made to the bill including broadening the definition of acceptable identification.

But she said she could not vote for it. “I find it to be unnecessary,” Merrill said.

Addie Shankle of New Hampshire Public Interest Research Group said, “New Hampshire PIRG has long supported and engaged in efforts that make it easier for eligible voters to register and cast their ballots, including extending voting hours and voting on weekends. We’re seeing legislation develop in both the House and Senate that moves in the opposite direction from that, and it is deeply concerning.”

A photo identification bill was passed by both the House and Senate last year, but Gov. John Lynch vetoed the measure and the Senate failed to override the veto after town and city clerks vocally opposed the plan.

The bill would have required provisional ballots, which clerks and many others found objectionable.

SB 289 contains no such provision.

Under the current bill, local election officials could verify a person’s identity if they did not have a photo ID. Those without photo identification could be challenged and would have to fill out a voter affidavit.

An advisory commission would also be established to review the process and oversee any needed changes to make the voting process smoother.

At the public hearing on the bill last month, Prescott stressed that no one would be denied a ballot under this bill. “No one should be turned away at the polls,” Prescott said.

The full Senate will vote on the bill in March.

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