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April 10. 2012 11:34PM

Voter ID bill draws criticism

CONCORD — Supporters of a bill requiring photo identification at the ballot box called it a balancing act between a person’s right to vote and a prohibition on those not qualified.

Senate Bill 289 would require voters to present a photo identification to vote after Jan. 1, 2013, but no one would be denied the right to vote, officials said at a public hearing Tuesday before the House Election Law Committee.

Qualified voters have the value of their votes diminished when unqualified voters caste ballots, said bill co-sponsor Rep. Daniel Itse, R-Fremont. “Rights come with obligations,” he said.

However, opponents far outweighed supporters at the hearing. They said far more people will be discouraged from voting or disenfranchised than any amount of voter fraud the bill seeks to stop.

“This is a solution in search of a program,” said former Rep. Joel Winter of Manchester. “This will disenfranchise far more people than the cases of voter fraud to be prevented.”

The bill’s prime sponsor, Sen. Russell Prescott, R-Kingston, worked with the Secretary of State’s Office, as well as the New Hampshire City and Town Clerks Association, to craft the bill that passed the Senate on a nearly partisan 18-5 vote.

Last year, lawmakers passed a bill requiring photo identification to vote and set up a provisional ballot process for those who could not produce a valid identification last session, but Gov. John Lynch vetoed the bill and the Senate failed to override the veto. The clerks association opposed that bill.

“This is a bill that will not disenfranchise voters,” said Patricia Piecuch, the president of the clerks association. Her organization is supporting the bill as is the Secretary of State’s Office.

Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan told the committee “We believe photo identification can be a useful tool, provided no qualified voter is turned away on election day, and two, that every vote cast is counted.”

Prescott’s bill expands acceptable photo identification to include driver’s license, federal and military identification, a passport, college identification card, or any other federal, state, county or municipal identification.

His bill would also allow local election officials to 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.

Under the bill an advisory commission would be established to review the process and oversee any needed changes to make the voting process smoother.

And the Secretary of State’s Office would have to pay for voter identification cards issued through the Division of Motor Vehicles.

Opponents argued requiring photo identification makes it harder for the elderly, the poor, the disabled, college students and minorities to vote.

“You’re changing the voting experience for a significant number of the state’s citizens,” said Michael Skibbie of the Disabilities Rights Center of New Hampshire.

He said the bill will delay the voting process for everyone, but would significantly delay the process for those without photo identification.

“It’s not always that easy for those with disabilities to get a photo ID,” Skibbie said. “They may show up to vote once, but they will never be back again.”

Joan Ashwell, election law specialist for the League of Women Voters of New Hampshire, said the voter ID bill “discriminates against certain otherwise qualified voters.”

She said it also discriminates against those who vote in person as opposed to those who vote by absentee ballot and do not have to show a photo identification to vote.

“Registered voters who don’t have a photo ID will have to leave the voting line, find a notary public, fill out a challenged voter form, get it notarized and then get back in the voting line to give their challenged form to the ballot clerk before receiving a ballot,” Ashwell said. “Any reasonable person can see that this will cause difficulties for many elderly and disabled voters, and any voter whose right to vote is challenged this way is more likely than not to feel embarrassed and humiliated.”

The committee did not make an immediate recommendation on the bill.

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