Federal judge weighs challenge to NH voting law

A federal judge is weighing whether to block a new election law as applying for the first-in-the-nation primary in February.  Shown here, Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan testified last winter against a bill to replace the law now in dispute (HB 1264) that would inform those who vote here they have to comply with driver's license and auto registration fee laws as all residents do.

CONCORD — A public hearing on two bills filed by Democrats to reverse election law changes made in the past two years by Republicans drew a capacity crowd to the State House on Thursday.

One of the new laws is still being challenged in the courts, while another hasn’t taken effect yet, but Democrats hope to overturn both.

House Bill 106 would reverse changes to the definitions of residence, inhabitant and domicile imposed by HB 1264, which became law in 2018 and is scheduled to take effect in July.

Under HB 1264, college students who declare New Hampshire residency for voting purposes would be required to obtain a New Hampshire driver’s license and motor vehicle registration within 60 days of voting.

Democrats have also filed House Bill 105, which would essentially reverse the voter verification measures imposed last year by Senate Bill 3, now being challenged in the courts.

David Scanlan, deputy secretary of state for elections, urged the Election Law Committee, now with a Democratic majority, to leave the laws in place, but look for ways to improve them.

“From our perspective, the laws are aligned the way they should be,” he said. “We understand there is always a tension between making it easy for people to vote and making sure that people qualified to vote are the ones who are voting. Those two sides of the rope are constantly pulling on each other, looking for that balance that is appropriate to conduct our elections in the fairest possible way.

“Instead of just repealing what the Legislature did last year,” he said, “I think the committee should look at whether there are certain aspects of the laws that are treating voters unfairly, and if there are, determine how to deal with that in the confines of existing statute.”

Many of those who supported the repeal measures had testified previously against the bills as they worked their way through the legislature in the past two years, including college students, representatives of the N.H. League of Women Voters, America Voters and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire, all urging repeal of SB 3 and HB 1264.

“HB 1264 specifically targets and burdens people who live in New Hampshire, but who may know they will be leaving some time in the future, including hospital residents, professors or college students, who know they will leave after graduation,” said Gilles Bissonnette, ACLU-NH legal director. “These voters have a constitutional right to vote in New Hampshire because they live here.”

An organization known as Citizens Count conducted an online poll in which 204 of 247 respondents were opposed to repealing the laws.

“I don’t believe it is unreasonable for us to require that those who participate in our elections be residents of our state,” said House Minority Leader Dick Hinch, R-Merrimack. “What I do believe to be unreasonable is that we have had two classifications of voters in our state: those who abide by our statutes and laws as residents, and those who don’t.”

Wednesday, February 26, 2020