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May 23. 2013 5:55PM

NH Senate removes student IDs as indisputable ID for voting

CONCORD -- The state Senate Thursday passed with strict party line votes legislation that changes the current state voter identification law by removing its clear statutory reference to student IDs as an acceptable form of voter ID.

The Senate, also along party lines, changed the House-passed voter registration bill by restoring reference to motor vehicle laws that had been removed by the House.

The current voter ID law allowed for the 2012 election a list of seven forms of identification acceptable at a polling place, including a student ID, and absent any of those, verification of the person's identity by a local election official. If a voter was challenged, the voter would fill out a "challenged voter affidavit."

House Bill 595, as passed by the Democratic-controlled House, kept those seven forms of identification intact and permanently eliminated the requirement that those without IDs have their photos taken at polling places.

The Senate Republican plan passed Thursday on a 13-10 vote, championed by Senate Public and Municipal Affairs Chairman David Boutin, cuts that list to four items and restores the photo requirement but puts it off for two years, until September 2015.

The changes made by the Senate on each bill will require that they return to the House, which will either concur with the Senate, "non-concur" and set up a conference committee, or non-concur without a conference committee, killing the bills and keeping the current laws in place.

Boutin called the Senate GOP voter ID plan "a prudent step that will allow voters to become familiar with these requirements while still allowing (local) voting officials to review the data at the polls."

Although student IDs are removed from the bill as a defined means of being allowed to vote, it leaves it up to the discretion of local election officials to determine if such an ID is "legitimate."

Boutin had said earlier this month after a key committee vote that state university or college student IDs would remain acceptable forms of voter ID under a provision of the bill that allows a "nondriver's identification card" issued by "the motor vehicles division, department, agency or office of any state."

But Thursday, Boutin said that even a state college or university student ID would be acceptable only if the local election officials approves.

If a voter is challenged, he or she must then fill out a challenged voter affidavit "as if no identification was presented."

Boutin said the bill "strikes compromise that the (municipal and public affairs majority) believes is a fair balance on a complex issue."

The GOP-controlled majority rejected seven amendments proposed by Democrats, all on 13-11 or 13-10 party line votes.

The key amendments sought to:

- Restore the list of seven acceptable IDs under current law, including student IDs, and require someone challenging a voter to present evidence backing up the challenge, or to at least state why the voter is being challenged.

- Remove the bill's requirement that those who cite religious reasons for refusing to have their photo taken at the polls fill out a special affidavit.

Pierce warned that without this change the first major election in which photographs would be taken will be the presidential primary of 2016, and he said it will cause long lines at the polls and disenfranchise voters "while the eyes of the nation are upon us" and could "endanger the reputation of the New Hampshire primary."

- Require that local officials be forbidden from posting signs at polling places stating that a photo ID is required in order to vote.

- Add only student IDs back onto the list of acceptable IDs for voting.

Pierce noted that the Young Republicans and Young Democrats groups at several state colleges opposed the removal of student IDs.

- Restore the House version of the bill in its entirety.

On the voter registration issue, current law says that to register, one must show that he or she is domiciled in New Hampshire. To do that, current law says, one must sign a form acknowledging that he is subject to the laws of the state, "including laws requiring a driver to register a motor vehicle and apply for a New Hampshire's driver's license within 60 days of becoming a resident.

A Superior Court judge ruled last fall the reference to motor vehicle laws caused confusion and ordered the state to remove the language from voter registration forms before the 2012 general election. The case is still pending.

The bill passed by the Democratic-controlled House earlier in the current session removed that reference. But the Senate version inserted language saying that a person registering to vote must sign a form acknowledging that he is subject to the laws of the state, including laws that "may" require a driver to register a motor vehicle and apply for a driver's license within 60 days of becoming a resident.

Pierce said the GOP plan "undermined the common sense object of the (House-passed) bill by reinserting very confusing language into the voter registration form."

Keeping reference to motor vehicle laws in the bill "would not do a thing to solve the confusion and would discourage people from voting," he said.

He said he was told by an official of the Attorney General's Office that keeping the reference to motor vehicle laws in the bill would not address the judge's ruling.

The House bill, he said, "was a good effort to bring us into constitutionality," while the Senate bill leaves in place "questionable constitutionality."

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