It appears that the reports of good news from early last week, that attempts to gut the new voter ID law had failed, were premature. Senate Republicans are preparing to give in to Democrat efforts to weaken the law, which requires voters to prove who they are before they can vote.
The Legislature worked for more than a decade to pass a law requiring voters to show a photo ID when seeking to vote in New Hampshire. Last term, we finally passed a law that was carefully crafted to phase in over two years so the implementation would be as trouble-free as humanly possible. To the surprise of all the naysayers who predicted massive chaos at the polls, there was essentially no problem with the new ID requirement and not a single person was denied the right to vote as a result of it.
However, the requirements of the new law allowed us to discover that in the presidential election many thousands of people voted without showing proof of their identity. People without necessary documents in their possession at the polls are allowed to vote simply by signing an affidavit swearing to their identity and/or qualification to vote. The secretary of state and the attorney general are required to follow up on those people to verify that they were legitimate, qualified voters.
When verification letters were sent out, 1,784 were returned undeliverable! Additionally, 2,473 votes were cast in the names of people who failed to confirm that they had voted. The attorney general is supposed to be investigating these 4,257 people, but so far, we know nothing about those investigations. More than half a year has passed since the election, but to date the attorney general has reported nothing about those who voted without proof of who they are.
Now, not knowing how many of those 4,257 undocumented voters may have been fraudulent, and without any compelling reason, the Legislature is about to make several changes that will weaken the law to the point of uselessness.
The main focal point of the debate seems to have been whether student IDs should be an acceptable form of photo identification. I could be wrong, but my guess is that pressure over this provision is what may be causing the Republican senators to do an about face on the law they passed last year. I never would have guessed that public education failed these students so badly that (in the very unlikely event that they do not possess an acceptable photo ID) they would be incapable of signing their name to an affidavit like every other voter. Go figure.
All the hullabaloo over student IDs is a farce anyway because another change they are about to make gives election officials the authority to accept ANY photo ID they determine “to be legitimate” even though no criteria is provided regarding what is legitimate. Basically moderators and supervisors of the checklist can accept anything they want, thereby guaranteeing that New Hampshire will not have a uniform standard across the state for all voters. If accepting virtually anything with a picture on it is not ridiculous enough, these election officials will also have the authority to effectively waive the photo ID requirement altogether by vouching for the voter’s identity themselves. So some people will be asked to show an ID while others won’t have to. Really fair, huh?
Finally, the secretary of state’s idea to take a picture of anyone who votes without showing ID is being put on hold. We adopted this plan in the law because it offered the only chance of identifying an unknown, undocumented person who votes fraudulently. With this provision put on hold for two years, the senators all but guarantee that it never goes into effect. There have already been efforts to repeal this requirement, and they will continue next year. Next time, however, they will be able to scare legislators with the prospect of disrupting New Hampshire’s presidential primary. That would be a foolish time to implement a significant change to election procedures. That is why we designed the current law with the time table it has. If people are getting soft on voter ID requirements now, there is little doubt that they will give in to those arguments next time around.
If the short-lived voter ID law is crippled this week, take note of those who did so by voting for HB 595.
David Bates, a Windham Republican, is former chairman of the House Election Law Committee.