CONCORD — One of the most significant policy achievements of the Republican legislative majority from 2017-2018 was passage of two election reform bills that tightened up the requirements for voter identification and proof of residency.
Both of those bills were overturned by Democratic majorities in the House on Thursday. The Senate is likely to follow suit, sending the repeal bills to Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, who has his veto pen at the ready.
“The bills passed today restore common sense to our election process and protect the constitutional rights of all voters,” said House Majority Leader Doug Ley, D-Jaffrey.
“Voting restrictions passed last term were clearly intended to make it less desirable and more difficult for college students to vote in New Hampshire. Students live here, abide by our laws, pay taxes and are active members of our communities. Requiring students who vote to re-register their car in New Hampshire has no legitimate purpose other than to discourage the act of voting.”
House Republican Leader Dick Hinch, R-Merrimack, described the election bills passed in the last two years as common-sense measures that made New Hampshire law consistent with voting requirements in other states.
“HB 1264 and SB 3 did not make us any different from our neighboring states. In this past election, there were no reports of any voters being disenfranchised by the new requirements. In fact, voter turnout in college towns made records,” said Hinch, referring to the two laws passed last year.
Both of those laws are being challenged in court by some combination of the League of Women Voters, Democratic Party, ACLU-NH, and individual plaintiffs.
HB 1264 changed the definitions of resident to make voting in New Hampshire a declaration of residency, thus requiring a change of driver’s license and motor vehicle registration within 60 days of voting.
SB 3 changed the procedures for voter verification, particularly for those trying to register within 30 days of an election.
The bill to repeal the definition of residency law, HB 106, passed 213-154, while the bill to repeal the voter verification law, passed 209-155, both along party lines.
Other election bills
The House could not muster the necessary two-thirds majority to advance a constitutional amendment that would allow anyone to vote by absentee ballot, without having to provide a reason for doing so. That measure, CACR 6, was tabled after a 208-158 vote in support.
The House passed a bill, however, that accomplishes the same thing. HB 611, which passed 198-163, allows voters to request an absentee ballot without having to provide a reason.
Another proposed constitutional amendment to allow 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections if they’re going to turn 18 by Election Day also could not get a two-thirds vote.
The House voted by a substantial margin, 291-72, to defeat a bill that would require presidential primary candidates to release their federal tax returns for the past five years.
The bill was seen as a threat to the broadest possible participation by candidates in the First in the Nation Primary, and came out of committee with a 19-0 vote in opposition.