CONCORD — Repealing stricter identification requirements for the state's voter photo ID law set to go into effect in September was backed by a number of groups Tuesday.
House Bill 595 would repeal changes in the law passed last year that requires voters to present a photo identification to vote, or to fill out a affidavit. The changes would restrict the kinds of identification that voting officials accepted in the November 2012 election such as student IDs and requires voting officials to photograph those without a photo ID to be placed with the affidavit.
The photo identification law is projected to cost the state about $450,000 over the next two years.
Several members of the House Election Law Committee questioned why the law was being changed when the data collected from the November election had yet to be compiled and analyzed.
But supporters of the repeal said the upcoming changes create the absurd situation where a person may legally register to vote with a photo ID that is not valid to vote.
"This is a move to make it more difficult to vote," said Sen. David Pierce, D-Etna, a bill sponsor, "and counter to the purpose of our work."
Last year, lawmakers overrode then Gov. John Lynch's veto of the law, which was a combination of a Senate plan that had his support and the support of local election officials, and a more restrictive House plan that limited acceptable photo IDs to state or federally issued identification beginning in 2013.
Supporters of the measure claim the restrictions are needed to protect against voter fraud and to restrict voting to legal residents of the community in which they vote.
But opponents argued there is no evidence of voter fraud in New Hampshire and the additional restrictions disenfranchise legal voters, particularly the elderly, disabled, poor, minorities and college students.
At yesterday's public hearing on HB 595, Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan said some polling places experienced long lines requiring voters to wait a long time. He noted his office received a lot of complaints about the law, but no one was turned away from voting who did not have photo identification.
Several committee members and Pierce did note that the Attorney General's Office did have to contact several polling places to tell election officials to take down signs saying photo identification was required.
Scanlan said in the primary election when photo IDs were not required although voters were asked to show one, about 6.5 percent did not show identification.
He said in the general election voters were more cooperative probably because "if they caused a hiccup, they might impact their neighbor behind them."
The Secretary of State's Office has sent out 5,650 cards to people who did not show a photo ID during the general election, he said, but they are not due back until April.
Under the provisions of the law, those who do not return the cards to verify identities will be turned over to the Attorney General's Office for investigation.
House Republican leaders oppose the repeal, saying that section of the law has yet to go into effect.
"We need to give these laws a chance to prove their effectiveness before taking such severe action. The provisions of the voter ID law that would take effect this year are common sense measures that hold people accountable," said House Republican Leader Gene Chandler of Bartlett. "It's simple, if you don't have an ID, you should expect to get your photo taken. If you havee you, you should have nothing to worry about. If you attempt to cast a ballot for someone other than yourself, we'll have definitive photographic evidence."
Several groups including America Votes and the NH League of Women Voters supported repealing the provisions set to go into effect in September 2013, but said they continue to oppose photo IDs.
Sarah Chapman, New Boston supervisor of the checklist, also supported the bill reminding the committee members that election officials are volunteers.
"If the 2013 (provisions) are enacted, I can't imagine how difficult it will be and how expensive," Chapman said. "Common sense tells me we do not need this. We have never seen any such thing in our town."
The committee did not make an immediate recommendation on the bill.
A bill to repeal the entire photo ID law House Bill 287 has already had a public hearing, but the committee has not taken action on it.