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February 05. 2013 8:59PM

Supporters, opponents voter ID repeal speak out at hearing

CONCORD - A bill to repeal the new voter photo identification law drew support Tuesday at a public hearing.

Lawmakers last year approved a photo ID bill just months before the primary election that required voters to show a variety of photo IDs in order to vote in last November's election. However, beginning in September, the list of acceptable photo IDs narrows to state or federally issued IDs.

As in the past two years, supporters of the law say it is needed to guarantee the integrity of elections, while opponents of photo ID say it addresses a problem that does not exist but does disenfranchise certain groups of voters, such as the elderly, college students and the poor.

The prime sponsor of House Bill 287, Rep. Timothy Horrigan, D-Durham, said under his bill voter fraud would continue to be a crime.

"Voting is a basic right," Horrigan told the House Election Law Committee. "If you do not need a photo ID to speak up or to defend yourself, you do not need a photo ID to vote."

Repealing the law would save about $465,000 over the next four years, he said.

The repeal was opposed by House Republican leadership who said last year New Hampshire joined more than 30 other states in requiring some form of identification to vote.

They urged waiting for several elections to see if changes are needed in the law.

"It's unfortunate we have to re-examine voter ID measures, which a bipartisan majority of voters support," said House Minority Leader Gene Chandler. "It would be helpful if we could observe how the process works for more than just one election before having to examine repealing it."

Rep. Laurie Sanborn, R-Bedford, called the current law a "good common sense measure that has yet to be fully implemented. It really is important to preserve the integrity of elections."

Deerfield election official Harriet Cady of Deerfield told the committee "I am pleased we have voter ID after what I saw when (some) claimed to be residents and voted."

She told of 22 people in 2004 who claimed they lived in Bear Brook State Park who registered to vote and voted but never voted again and all correspondence with them was returned.

"They stole votes in my town and that doesn't make me happy," Cady said.

She said her community registered 339 new voters election day and all but one showed an identification.

But others argued there were problems with the new law as many communities had long lines at the polls both to vote and for registration.

Supporters of the repeal noted many people could have been "chilled" or confused over the new law and simply did not bother to vote.

Joan Ashwell of the League of Women Voters of New Hampshire claimed thousands of state residents may not have voted because of the new law.

"We're talking about the most precious right of citizens, the right to vote," Ashwell said. "Last year's law passed without one shred of evidence it was needed."

She and others said the law serves no legitimate purpose, but does present a real danger by placing additional hurdles for many who want to vote.

The bill was also supported by the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, a number of social advocacy groups such as Granite State Progress, and the New Hampshire Alliance for Retired Americans.

Ron Geoffroy, senior executive vice president of the alliance, told the committee the repeal "would right a terrible wrong when it comes to New Hampshire seniors."

He noted many elderly people give up their driver's licenses and now have to find someone to drive them to the Division of Motor Vehicles to have a photo ID taken in order to vote.

The committee will later have another public hearing on House Bill 595, which would repeal the changes scheduled to take effect in September but retain the photo ID requirement currently in place.

The committee did not make an immediate recommendation on HB 287.

grayno@unionleader.com



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