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May 08. 2012 10:03PM

Officials say it's too late for voter ID bill

CONCORD — A proposed amendment to the Senate passed bill requiring photo identification to vote, would be impossible to implement before this year's election a House Committee was told Tuesday.

The amendment to Senate Bill 289 would require local election officials to photograph those without a photo ID and restricts what can be used to for identification to a driver's license, a state-issued identification card, a military ID and a Passport. The Senate bill allows student and government identification cards as well.

The biggest obstacle, according to state and local election officials, is that the bill would take effect for the primary and general election this year, while SB 289 would not have gone into effect until Jan. 1, 2013.

Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan warned lawmakers that they need to be honest and realistic about the expectations for the legislation.

“The Senate bill is simple and could be implemented right away,” Scanlan said. “This (amendment) is complex with a lot of moving parts that require longer implementation time. It is unreasonable to expect to have this up and running for the next election.”

But he noted ultimately it's a policy decision for the Legislature.

When asked by a committee member about using student identification cards for photo ID, he said if he were a lawmaker he would include it in the acceptable identification.

The proposed House changes would require such things as voters to announce their name and address, for election clerks to record out-of-state drivers' licenses on the checklist and to photograph those without identification to be attached to affidavits swearing to their domicile.

The House proposal also would require the Secretary of State's office to purchase the photography equipment as well as prepare an education program for voters going to the polls informing them of the new requirements.

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, but Gov. John Lynch vetoed the bill and the Senate failed to override the veto. The New Hampshire City and Town Clerks Association opposed that bill.

SB 289'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.

The Senate bill also would allow local election officials to verify a person's identity if they did not have a photo ID. Under both versions, an advisory commission would be established to review the process and oversee any needed changes to make the voting process smoother.

Nancy Johnson, representing the clerks association, also said the proposed changes would be impossible to implement before the next election.

“This amendment will definitely increase waiting time at the polls and (produce) a greater burden on elected officials and clerks, and requires hiring additional personnel to take pictures” Johnson told the House Election Law Committee.

She added there was no need for such radical changes to the voter ID that passed the Senate and for the bill to take effect for the upcoming elections.

But Steve Stiener of Conway urged the committee to pass the new version of the bill “to protect my vote so people who want to cheat don't nullify it.”

Another proponent of the House proposal said if people are so irresponsible that they do not have photo identification, they are too irresponsible to vote.

But Claire Ebel of the state Civil Liberties Union warned the committee a similar photo ID bill in Georgia was struck down because the education component was inadequate. “There is no education component in this amendment,” she said, noting there would only be two or three month for anyone to alert voters to the changes.

The bill cannot be constitutionally applied, Ebel said.

She noted one side of the issue talks about protecting the integrity of the voting process, while the other side calls such bills voter suppression.

“I'm much more concerned about voter suppression in New Hampshire than I am about voter fraud,” Ebel said.

The committee will decide what recommendation to make on the bill Thursday. The House will vote on it next week.

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