Trial over controversial voter registration law to begin

Secretary of State Bill Gardner supports the voter registration changes lawmakers adopted in recent years to have voting in New Hampshire more closely align with residency.

MANCHESTER — A trial challenging the legality of a 2017 law tightening voter registration procedures begins in Hillsborough County Superior Court North on Tuesday, with opponents of the law arguing their case on two of four remaining grounds.

Court officials said they postponed by a day the start of the trial due to Monday’s snowstorm.

The League of Women Voters has argued the so-called SB 3 law should be struck down on four grounds.

Judge David A. Anderson last month dismissed two of those charges.

But his ruling allowed the trial to go forward on the central question of whether these changes violate the equal protection clause of the state constitution because they are not uniformly applied across the state.

The trial will also consider the claim that this law burdens an individual’s right to vote.

The Republican-led Legislature two years ago adopted this law that more closely links the act of registering to vote with declaring one’s residency in the state.

SB 3 requires would-be voters to provide documents proving residency in New Hampshire. The bill’s supporters argued the measure promotes confidence in the state’s elections by assuring only people who live here vote here.

In October 2018, a Hillsborough County Superior Court judge blocked the state from implementing SB 3 as the legal challenge progressed. In the injunction, Judge Kenneth Brown wrote that there was little evidence of low confidence in the integrity of New Hampshire’s election system — and no evidence the new law would help.

“The state presented no evidence that the new domicile affidavit has had any impact on the public’s perception of the election process,” he wrote.

A separate lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union and the New Hampshire Democratic Party challenges a second voter registration law, HB 1264, which removes the phrase “for the indefinite future” from the definition of residency or “principal place of physical presence.”

Last week, U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Laplante refused to grant a temporary injunction to ACLU-NH that sought to prevent HB 1264 from being applied in the first-in-the-nation primary that is on Feb. 11.

Laplante did, however, transfer to the New Hampshire Supreme Court five legal questions that ask whether the law imposes new residency requirements especially for out-of-state college students.

“Prior to the recent changes implemented by HB 1264, individuals were not deemed ‘residents’ unless they intended to remain in New Hampshire ‘for the indefinite future,’” Laplante wrote.

“Finally, this case implicates certain motor vehicle statutes because these provisions impose obligations on New Hampshire ‘residents.’”

Secretary of State Bill Gardner, the state’s top election official, has maintained these two laws did not alter voter registration procedures.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019
Tuesday, December 03, 2019