WE BOTH TRAVEL a lot for work. As a result, we get to meet a lot of people who know about New Hampshire only from afar. Invariably, these people know only a few things about our state. They almost always know we have great mountains and beautiful foliage. They frequently mention our motto — “Live Free or Die.” They have often heard of our First in the Nation Primary and the unique participatory nature of our democracy.
There is no need for us to support action to improve upon our mountains or foliage or rework our motto. However, we can, and should, consider ways that we can improve the way our democracy works.
As the First-in-the-Nation state, New Hampshire has always been a leader when it comes to elections. However, as technology advances to allow for more efficient, secure voter registration systems, our state has not kept up. This needs to change. If we pass the Secure Modern Accurate Registration Technology (SMART) Act, it will. We are proud to stand with Republicans, Democrats and civil rights groups across the state to make sure that it does.
The SMART Act will bring secure and modern voter registration, a system already in use in 15 other states nationwide, to New Hampshire. It will both update and preserve our unique registration system while making it more efficient, it will save constituents time, and it will make Election Day run smoother for local election officials and for voters by cutting down on long registration lines.
Here’s how it works. The SMART Act will create a process to update New Hampshire’s voter registration system by securely registering eligible American citizens when they interact with the Division of Motor Vehicles. The eligible voter’s information is sent securely from the agency to the Secretary of State’s office, where it is then transferred via New Hampshire’s existing centralized voter database to relevant local election officials for verification and action. The system upgrade leverages existing technology to deliver a more efficient, accurate and robust way to identify and register eligible citizens to vote.
The upgrade to SMART, a more secure, robust and modern voter registration process, has been implemented across red and blue states ranging from Rhode Island to Alaska. It has been widely applauded for improving voting access and security, especially in rural areas. Just across the Connecticut River, we have an example of such a positive impact. The voter registration rate for our neighbor, Vermont, for instance, trailed New Hampshire’s by five percent in 2016. After implementing secure and modern voter registration last year, however, their registration rate surpassed ours by 13 percent in 2018.
With nearly 250,000 Granite Staters who are eligible to vote but not yet registered, according to the recent U.S. Census reports, there is plenty of work to do to improve our registration rates.
This system upgrade would also improve the accuracy of New Hampshire’s voter rolls, minimizing the potential for interference, registration from non-citizens and fraud. The updates included in the SMART Act provide for multiple points of verification to ensure that non-citizens cannot vote, and the system uses encryption and secure database software to ensure voters’ eligibility. It also frees up election clerks’ time to detect potential irregularities in the system and uses New Hampshire’s preexisting address confidentiality program to shield individuals’ personal information.
Not only is this system good for our democracy, it is also good for our bottom line. Secure and modern voter registration systems have proved to save localities an average of about $3.54 per registration in labor cost by moving away from the paper-based registration approaches and time-consuming bureaucratic busy work.
While there will undoubtedly be costs associated with implementing and maintaining this modern and secure system, states that have done this have seen nominal costs and our state has existing Help America Vote Act (HAVA) funds, including a $3.1 million grant we received last summer, that can be used for the implementation of the SMART Act.
In business we’ve learned over and over that you can use technology to improve outcomes and save money. We believe our state has a chance to do just that by passing the SMART Act.
We urge members of the state legislature to support this critical measure.
Republican Steve Baines is a former state representative from Goffstown. He is CEO of Forcivity.
Democrat Gray Chynoweth is a businessman, entrepreneur , and former executive council candidate. He lives in Manchester.