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Parties Fail to Reach Compromise on N.H. Voter ID Legislation

Concord — The Democratic effort to roll back New Hampshire’s voter ID law ran aground yesterday when negotiations between the House and Senate ended almost as soon as they began.

Negotiators from the Democratic-led House and Republican-led Senate could still reach some sort of compromise before Thursday’s deadline for committees of conference to finish their work. But neither side sounds confident that will happen.

“I would say the chances are slim,” said Rep. Gary Richardson, D-Hopkinton, the chief House negotiator.

Last year, the then-GOP-dominated Legislature enacted a law requiring voters to present photo identification or sign an affidavit at the polls. The law’s second phase will kick in this fall, with a shorter list of acceptable forms of ID that doesn’t include student IDs and a requirement that election workers photograph anyone signing an affidavit to vote.

Repealing or rolling back the law was a priority for Democrats after they gained seats in the Senate and won a majority in the House last fall. The House in March voted, 184-122, largely along party lines, to pass a bill that would eliminate the law’s second phase and maintain the program as it worked during last fall’s election.

But Senate Republicans last month, on a 13-11 party-line vote, amended the bill to keep in place the shorter list of IDs and the photo-taking requirement, though the latter would have been delayed two years.

The conference committee appointed to see whether a compromise could be reached met yesterday morning, and it didn’t take long to reach an impasse.

“The two chambers agreed to not agree,” said Sen. David Boutin, R-Hooksett, the chief Senate negotiator.

Boutin said the Senate offered a compromise, a provision allowing election officials some latitude in accepting IDs, but the House wasn’t interested. Richardson said the House was open to delaying all of the law’s second-phase changes until 2015, but the Senate didn’t bite.

“What the Senate was unwilling to do was to compromise on the forms of identification that are acceptable, particularly student IDs, which we think are very important for our students who don’t have driver’s licenses,” Richardson said.

Unless a last-minute compromise is reached this week, the voter ID law’s second phase will kick in Sept. 1. Secretary of State Bill Gardner’s office has estimated buying cameras and photo printers for polling places will cost nearly $82,000, plus maintenance expenses.