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Forty bills in NH Legislature target voting

State House Bureau

January 17. 2017 12:50AM

CONCORD — As many as 40 bills to change New Hampshire election law will soon be working their way through the Legislature, but only a few are likely to find their way to the desk of a newly elected governor who has made election reform a top priority.

Many election-related bills have been proposed by State Rep. David Bates, R-Windham.

“Most of my changes focus on facilitating better enforcement of our existing voter requirements and do not add any new requirement in order for people to vote,” he said.

Bates will be among those attending a private meeting at the State House scheduled for today with House Speaker Shawn Jasper, other legislative leaders and key committee chairs to craft a coordinated strategy for the election law agenda.

Many of the ideas coming from a variety of lawmakers are still in the form of a legislative service request, and have yet to be assigned bill numbers. They range from ambitious proposals with little chance of success — like authorizing online voter registration or allowing any voter to vote by absentee ballot — to minor housekeeping measures.

Bates, who served on the Election Law Committee from 2009 to 2012, has also been a supervisor of the checklist in his hometown. He says his frontline experience on Election Day in Windham has informed what he describes as a modest and realistic approach to tightening up the state’s election laws.

“A lot of bills are going to the Election Law Committee, but a lot of them are very likely not going to go very far, because people just don’t understand the complexities,” he said. “We’re very limited in what we can do in reforming election laws because we are talking about a fundamental right.”

Bates has been acting on his own up to now, but is anxious to see the House leadership get behind a specific package of election law legislation.

“I’m moving forward with this independently,” he said, “but at the same time, election law reform has been talked about as a priority of Republicans from the governor on down. So it’s not surprising that Republican leaders are going to be gathering to talk about it and because I have so many bills pending, I was invited.”

Those ideas include a measure, still not assigned a bill number, that would require voters who show up without identification to produce proof of their qualification to vote in New Hampshire within 10 days of an election. That means someone who signed a voter affidavit would have to produce a photo ID or similar documentation at their town hall soon after voting.

Another bill proposed by Bates, HB 459, would expand the affidavit signed by voters without ID to include identifying information like street address, mailing address and phone number.

Under HB 403, voters claiming a New Hampshire domicile by affidavit would have to provide more information that would enable the state to verify their claims, such as the name of the landlord or person they are living with, their relationship to that person and the length of time they have lived there or plan to live there by virtue of a lease or rental agreement.

Another of Bates’ proposed changes, HB 464, would eliminate the authority of election officials to vouch for the identity of voters or to accept any photo identification they determine to be legitimate.

“Requirements for voting should be clear, objective and equally applicable to all voters regardless of who they know,” according to Bates.

In a similar vein, HB 402 removes a New Hampshire vehicle registration from the list of documents that can now be used to establish “presumptive evidence” of a person’s domicile.

“There are currently approximately 8,500 vehicle registrations issued to residents of other states, and those vehicle registrations are not identified as nonresident,” said Bates.

He would also prohibit people from using affidavits to register ahead of Election Day, arguing that any legitimate voter should be able to provide some proof of a New Hampshire domicile when registering to vote in advance. “Affidavits in lieu of documentation should only be accepted at the polls on Election Day,” he said.

Bates said the changes he is proposing stem from actual situations he’s encountered as an election official in his town. “The impetus for me has been my personal experience — problems or abuses that I’ve witnessed,” he said. “I’ve had firsthand experience with a lot of the logistical aspects of the laws that few other members have had.”

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