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Judge expected to issue ruling on New Hampshire election law today

By DAVE SOLOMON
State House Bureau

September 11. 2017 8:47PM
Hillsborough County Superior Court Judge Charles Temple listens to proceedings during a hearing last month in Hillsborough Superior Court in Nashua on a lawsuit that would prevent the state from sending voter information to President Donald Trump's commission investigating election fraud. (AP Photo/Mary Schwalm, Pool/File)

NASHUA — The fate of New Hampshire’s new election law, at least in the short term, is now in the hands of Superior Court Judge Charles Temple, who heard nearly three hours of testimony on Monday for and against SB 3 and the requirements it imposes on voters, especially those seeking to register within 30 days of an election.

Temple said he would issue his ruling by 7 a.m. today, in time for the opening of polls in Laconia and Belmont where a special election is being held for state representative.

Lawyers for the state Attorney General and Secretary of State defended the new law against a lawsuit by the N.H. Democratic Party and League of Women Voters, which seeks an immediate injunction to block implementation before Tuesday’s special election.

Attorney John Devaney, arguing for the League of Women Voters, said the law was based on inaccurate claims of voter fraud and an unproven need to bolster voter confidence in the integrity of the voting process.

Associate Attorney General Anne Edwards defended the law, saying the state Legislature has the right to determine that public confidence in the election process needs to be addressed, and to impose requirements that prove a voter is domiciled in New Hampshire.

“SB3 makes incremental and modest changes in New Hampshire election law,” she said as she showed the judge poster-sized versions of the current voter affidavits and the new ones that will take effect with SB 3.

The law’s new requirements for voter verification and the specter of criminal investigation will scare voters away from the polls, said Devaney.

“The burdens of the law will fall most heavily and with the most frequency on the homeless, low income residents, residents of limited education, residents who tend to move frequently and students,” he said.

The plaintiffs want the law struck down eventually, but more urgently are seeking an injunction to prevent it from being put into play when voters in Laconia and Belmont head to the polls on Tuesday.

“We’ve got an election tomorrow and there is no notice to people voting in that election or others coming up that they need to comply,” said Devaney. “It’s harm is irreparable and imminent. We need an injunction, and the balance of interests weighs heavily on protecting one of our most basic rights in this country — the right to vote for our elected representatives.”

Edwards said the Secretary of State has tried to educate local officials on the new law and that representatives of his office and the Attorney General’s office would be present at the polls in Laconia and Belmont “to deal with these issues.”

Attorneys for the state challenged whether the League of Women Voters and the state Democratic Party have standing to bring a lawsuit, arguing that neither has suffered any harm. The state also challenged the standing of three individuals also named as plaintiffs in the League of Women Voters lawsuit.

“The League and New Hampshire Democrats have to show that some legal right of theirs has been impaired or prejudiced,” said Assistant Attorney General Anthony Galdieri. “Not a single plaintiff in this case has standing to bring a declaratory judgment action.”

Attorneys for the plaintiffs introduced into evidence several affidavits from voters, election officials and experts on “plain language” in government documents. They described the forms required by SB 3 as confusing and overwhelming.

Edwards objected to the fact that the affidavits were allowed into evidence, despite the fact that the individuals were not present in the courtroom for cross-examination.

Temple responded that “time constraints” on the court made it necessary for him to allow the affidavits into evidence. “The court is trying to be as fair as it can be,” he said.

Galdieri described the testimony contained in many of the affidavits as “irrelevant and speculative.”

dsolomon@unionleader.com


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