John Gregg: Expect Chaos At N.H. Polls

Thursday, June 20, 2013
There’s a good chance of aggravation and even chaos at the polls in college towns such as Hanover and Plymouth, N.H., come the 2016 New Hampshire primary.

House and Senate negotiators in Concord this week have failed to agree on rolling back the second phase of New Hampshire’s Voter ID law — enacted when Tea Party Republicans ran the House — which means by later this year, the acceptable list of identification cards voters may use to vote at the polls will no longer include college IDs.

That means hundreds of college students at Dartmouth College, Plymouth State, Keene State and University of New Hampshire who historically have used their college IDs to vote in statewide and presidential elections will instead have to sign an affidavit attesting to their identities, and then go to another spot in the polling precinct and have their photos taken by election officials.

That’s because they are unlikely to trek to Claremont or other sites where the Division of Motor Vehicles has offices to get a state-sponsored ID.

State Sen. David Pierce, a Hanover Democrat who has long worked to protect the voting rights of college students in New Hampshire, is still hopeful that Phase 2 provisions limiting the list of acceptable IDs and requiring “mug shots” of voters who can’t produce the valid papers might still be delayed in a compromise until 2015.

But even then, he notes, that still means the provisions would kick in before the 2016 New Hampshire presidential primary, sure to be a wide-open contest in both parties.

“If the prediction of local moderators holds true, that’s going to create chaos and longer lines (at the polls),” Pierce said. “The Secretary of State has consistently testified that longer lines amount to a functional disenfranchisement of voters.”

Republicans have said voter ID laws protect the integrity of the voting process, but Pierce maintains the Republican intent is to make it harder to vote for groups traditionally allied with Democrats.

Whatever the motivation, the camera provision, tightening of IDs and changes that would prevent moderators from allowing voters they recognize to vote are drawing the ire of local election officials. And Pierce said the costs to the state could approach $1 million over three or four years.

Betsy McClain, the director of administrative services and town clerk in Hanover, said the town has been able to handle the initial phase of the voter ID law, which required a photo ID or affidavit of voters, but included college and employee IDs.

But if Phase 2 goes into effect, McClain predicts that more than 700 voters — and possibly more than 1,000 — could wind up in the time-consuming affidavit and photo process.

“Taking photographs at the polling place, really?” McClain wrote in an email yesterday. “Given the fiscal challenges our state faces, how could anyone (elected officials or otherwise) possibly endorse the expenditure of state funds to outfit all of the New Hampshire polling places with cameras and printers?”

McClain also said lawmakers erred in stripping local officials of authority at their polling places.

“I take exception to the Legislature stripping our chief election officials of their authority to verify voters in our jurisdiction. The Voter ID law currently in effect recognizes that our elected Supervisors of the Checklist, town clerk ... and moderator are residents of Hanover and are empowered to exercise their knowledge of the community to verify identity and familiarity with local institutions to recognize other legitimate photo ID’s. To defrock us of this authority is insulting.”

News on the News

While loyal readers like you have helped the Valley News remain a vibrant operation, the turmoil in the newspaper industry has hit two prominent northern New England papers hard.

The Union Leader on Monday shuttered its press and outsourced its printing to the Foster’s Daily Democrat plant in Dover, N.H. But, in its own story, the Manchester-based paper buried the news that 33 jobs were being axed, including pressmen whose fathers (and even a grandfather as well) had held the same jobs before them.

Meanwhile, the Rutland Herald this week had some layoffs, including chief photographer Vyto Starinskas, who had been at the paper for 30 years.

A friendly figure known throughout the state because of his work, Starinskas posted a gracious note on his Facebook page Tuesday, saying, “Today I packed up my stuff at the Rutland Herald for the last time because my job as chief photographer was eliminated for financial reasons by the newspaper, along with some other jobs ... I was so privileged to be able to touch the hearts of so many Vermonters who let me into their personal lives to be shared with the Rutland Herald.”

Asked for comment, Herald Publisher and President John Mitchell said by email, “I don’t have anything to say about Vyto’s departure, other than I appreciate how he has handled the news and I thank him for his wonderful contribution over the past 30 years.”

Briefly Noted

■ The irrepressible Paul Keane, the recently retired Hartford High School teacher, has a frayed cigar he received from Winston Churchill in 1961 during a visit to New York by the British statesman (Young Keane staked out a spot for 24 hours and met Churchill as he left a yacht in New York Harbor, according to a press clipping). The United Kingdom-based Churchill Archives Centre expressed mild interest, telling Keane: “(We) would be honoured to house your cigar and its related literature alongside Sir Winston’s private papers, should you wish to donate it to us. Sadly, we are not in a position to offer you payment,” according to Keane’s blog.

■ Vermont Democrats will celebrate the 10th anniversary of Howard Dean’s formal announcement that he was running for president with a picnic Sunday at Oakledge Park in Burlington. Those Meet-ups seem a long time ago, but there’s no denying Dean unleashed a grassroots force among Democrats that still has some potency.


This article has been amended to correct an earlier error. A Cuban cigar that belonged to Winston Churchill and which Hartford resident Paul Keane received as a teen in 1961 was unsmoked, but has frayed since then. An earlier version of this column incorrectly described the condition of the cigar.

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