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July 25. 2013 9:37PM

Hassan vetoes changes to absentee ballot processing

CONCORD — Election workers will not be able to begin processing absentee ballots before 1 p.m. election day if Gov. Maggie Hassan’s veto of House Bill 183 is sustained.

Hassan vetoed the bill Wednesday, saying it has the potential to undermine the transparency of the election process.

“Maintaining confidence in our elections through a transparent and straightforward system for processing ballots is essential to the ongoing health of our democracy,” Hassan said in a statement.

The bill would allow election workers to begin processing absentee ballots two hour after the polls open and leave it to poll officials to determine when they actually begin counting the votes.

The Senate version of the bill would have required prior notice of the processing time, but that was removed by the House and Senate conference committee before the bill was passed by both bodies on voice votes.

Current law directs absentee processing to begin by 1 p.m. election day.

Cities and towns with voting machines send ballots through the electronic counters during lulls in voting, but towns that count ballots by hand wait until polls close to begin counting.

City and town clerks have pushed for years to allow them to begin processing the absentee ballots earlier in the day when there are fewer voters at the polls, but until this year they have been unsuccessful.

In her veto message, Hassan said the bill would cause confusion, noting the 1 p.m. start time ensures a transparent process so the public and political parties know when ballots are being reviewed.

“HB 183 would eliminate that set time and leave it to poll workers at each individual voting location to determine when to begin processing absentee ballots without any requirement for advanced notice, so long as the processing begins at least two hours after the polls open,” Hassan said.

She noted the Senate included an advance notice provision that was removed in conference committee that would have addressed the transparency issue.

Hassan said she understands the bill is an attempt to make the process more efficient for election officials.

“However, the final version of this bill improves flexibility and efficiency without adequately preserving the element of transparency that is the foundation of our elections system,” Hassan said.

“Efficiency and transparency are not mutually exclusive, and I am confident that we can all work together to pass a bill that will achieve both before the next state-wide election, and I will work with the Legislature to do so.”

The bill is one of three Hassan has vetoed in this, her first session in the corner office.

One bill would establish a committee to study end-of-life issues and the other would reduce the number of members of the Economic Development Advisory Council.

Lawmakers have not set a date when they will return to vote on the vetoes. Both the House and Senate have to have two-thirds majorities to override a governor’s veto.

grayno@unionleader.com


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