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N.H. Voter ID Rules a Non-Issue at Polls

  • A poll worker returns Mike Padova’s ID after Padova’s name was not on the voter checklist yesterday at the Newport Opera House. Padova, who last voted in 2008, was removed from the checklist during the 2011 purge of voter rolls. He was able to re-register and vote.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    A poll worker returns Mike Padova’s ID after Padova’s name was not on the voter checklist yesterday at the Newport Opera House. Padova, who last voted in 2008, was removed from the checklist during the 2011 purge of voter rolls. He was able to re-register and vote.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Nik Folley, of Hanover, speaks with a voter at the same-day voter registration table yesterday at Hanover High School. A majority of the same-day registrants in Hanover were Dartmouth College students.<br/><br/>(Valley News — Ryan Dorgan)

    Nik Folley, of Hanover, speaks with a voter at the same-day voter registration table yesterday at Hanover High School. A majority of the same-day registrants in Hanover were Dartmouth College students.

    (Valley News — Ryan Dorgan) Purchase photo reprints »

  • A poll worker returns Mike Padova’s ID after Padova’s name was not on the voter checklist yesterday at the Newport Opera House. Padova, who last voted in 2008, was removed from the checklist during the 2011 purge of voter rolls. He was able to re-register and vote.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Nik Folley, of Hanover, speaks with a voter at the same-day voter registration table yesterday at Hanover High School. A majority of the same-day registrants in Hanover were Dartmouth College students.<br/><br/>(Valley News — Ryan Dorgan)

— Upper Valley voters flocked to the polls yesterday, creating long waits in some towns and forcing election officials in Claremont and Lebanon to scramble for extra voter registration forms.

But despite expected controversy over a new voter identification law, all was calm at the Hanover polls, where turnout slipped from 2008 levels. Town officials were expecting a lengthy line at the challenged voter affidavit table after 214 voters had chosen not to show their ID during the September primary, most of them doing so in protest. But yesterday Hanover residents seemed to oblige with the new voter ID law, with only 78 choosing to sign an affidavit instead of showing their ID.

By early afternoon, the three volunteers manning the affidavit table were counting same-day voter registrations because no one was visiting their table.

“From the primary and the feedback that the ballot clerks were getting about the voter ID law, I really thought there would be more people not showing their photo ID,” Deputy Town Clerk Betsy McClain said. “But most people, I think they’re just acclimating to it now.”

In Hanover, McClain said voter turnout was high, but it didn’t quite reach 2008 numbers. Almost 7,500 people voted in Hanover’s general election in 2008, with 7,323 turning out for yesterday’s election.“There was more of a celebratory vibe, people came in groups, so it was loud and more festive four years ago,” McClain said. “Not that it’s been gloomy today, but there is not that ebullience that was in the air four years ago.”

There were far fewer same-day registrations in Hanover yesterday compared to the last general election. In 2008, the line for same-day registration snaked around the gym and Selectboard chairman Peter Christie told the students that if they waited in line for more than an hour, he’d buy them a Big Mac from McDonald’s.

Even still, there were often 50 people either waiting in line or filling out voter registration forms.

Jesse Choukas-Bradley, a 21-year-old Dartmouth College student from Maryland, said that he made it through the registration line within 10 minutes and it was quicker than if he had registered ahead of time because it had saved him an extra trip.

Choukas-Bradley’s friend Brett Nicholas said he did same-day registration because he forgot to ask for an absentee ballot from his home state.

“I’m from California, so my vote doesn’t really count there,” Nicholas said.

Many Dartmouth students echoed Nicholas’ sentiment, saying that they registered same-day in New Hampshire because their vote would matter more than in their home state.

John Cofer, a 19-year-old Dartmouth sophomore from Connecticut, said that regardless of how he voted at home, Connecticut would have gone for Democrats.

“I feel my vote has more of an effect here in New Hampshire” Cofer said. “Plus, it was just easy. It took probably five minutes. I just came in and filled out all my forms.”

There were no voter challenges, although there were more than 10 election observers either roaming around the Hanover High School gym or stationed next to the check-in table. Observers were appointed by the Democratic or Republican parties, and some came from as far away as Yale Law School in Connecticut.

Students casting ballots in New London also reported no problems at the polls, although the line for students registering to vote nearly stretched out the doors of Town Hall.

New London Moderator W. Michael Todd said no student or resident was denied the opportunity to vote for any reason, and the day had gone smoothly. As of 4 p.m., more than 2,000 residents had cast ballots there.

At Claremont’s Ward 1, Clerk David Roark was concerned because he had only been given 1,630 ballots and 1,551 had already voted by 6:20 p.m. The city clerk brought over backup ballots in case the ward ran out,

And in Lebanon, officials had to get extra new voter forms after some supplies ran out.

Election officials and politicians in Enfield and Canaan both said crowds were stronger than they had seen in a long time.

When polls opened in Canaan at 8 a.m., a line of roughly 50 people stretched from inside at the fire station to outside the police station.

“More than it’s ever been,” state Rep. Chuck Townsend said. “I’ve never seen it.”

In Ward II in Lebanon, more than a dozen people stood in line around 2 p.m. — usually the downtime between the lunch and evening rushes. Some voters said they had tried to vote in the morning, only to leave when confronted by a line that stretched outside the doors of the United Methodist Church.

Ward II moderator Gary Mayo estimated that voter turnout was about 75 percent, which was higher than the Secretary of State’s estimate of a 70 percent statewide turnout.

“We were busy four years ago, but we were not this busy,” said Linda Liang, moderator for Lebanon’s Ward I. At Ward III, lines were so long in the morning and evenings that voters had to wait 30 to 40 minutes. Last night, unofficial election results were showing 6,944 ballots cast in Lebanon’s three wards.

Assistant Attorney General Rebecca Woodard spent the morning in Hanover and didn’t report any unusual behavior.

Across the Connecticut River, some Vermonters reported that they weren’t on the checklist despite having registered through the Department of Motor Vehicles. The Secretary of State’s Office said one person in Sharon who was mistakenly refused a ballot returned and was able to vote; two others were told they could sign an affidavit so they could vote but chose not to.

Kern Wisner, a 75-year-old Hanover resident, came close to not voting as well. While a number of Hanover residents chose not to show an ID and signed the challenged voter affidavit without incident, Wisner challenged the new voter ID law by saying he didn’t want to sign an affidavit either.

Wisner said that his religion prevents him from having a photo ID, although he declined to disclose his religion.

“What is the purpose? The purpose is to harass people,” Wisner said.

After talking with McClain, the moderator and an assistant attorney general, Wisner was told he had to sign the affidavit or he couldn’t vote. So he signed the affidavit. But he did so by printing his name and signing it with a different first name.

“I told them that my legal name and signature are different, and they said it doesn’t make a difference. Well, if it doesn’t make a difference, why do it?” Wisner said.

Sarah Brubeck can be reached at sbrubeck@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.