N.H. Judge Blocks Voting Law

Associated Press
Monday, October 22, 2018

Concord — A judge in New Hampshire on Monday blocked a state law that would have required additional documentation from voters who move to the state within 30 days of an election.

In a preliminary injunction issued, Hillsborough Superior Court Judge Kenneth Brown said the law known as SB 3 would create longer lines at polling stations and unfairly target certain groups, including young Democrats and the homeless. He also said the law doesn’t address its stated goal of going after voter fraud, which he described as “not widespread or even remotely commonplace” in the state.

“Instead of combating fraud, the law simply imposes additional burdens on legitimate voters,” Brown wrote.

Associate Attorney General Anne Edwards said her office was reviewing the court’s order and would “be communicating about next steps as soon as possible.”

The law was passed after President Donald Trump alleged widespread voter fraud in New Hampshire, though there’s been no evidence to support that claim. Democrats challenged the measure during legislative debates, but Republicans contended existing state laws create the potential for fraud. It never took effect, since the state’s Democratic Party and the League of Women Voters separately filed lawsuits over the law, arguing it was unconstitutional and should be thrown out. Those lawsuits eventually were merged.

Currently, an individual can register to vote without presenting any proof he or she lives in the town or ward where they are voting. But under SB 3, voters who move to the state within 30 days of an election are required to provide proof they intend to stay and would face penalties if they couldn’t provide required documentation. In an earlier ruling, a judge blocked penalties included in the law.

On Monday, Democrats, the American Civil Liberties Union and voter rights groups praised the ruling as a blow to those who want to suppress voter turnout.

“This injunction is a win for all eligible voters and sends a clear message that voter suppression tactics will not be tolerated in New Hampshire,” State Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley said in a statement. “Every qualified voter should be permitted to vote without unnecessary burdens imposed upon them.”

The state Republican Party suggested the ruling would throw the election system into “disarray” but Republican Gov. Chris Sununu was more measured. He described the ruling as a temporary setback in his administration’s efforts to strengthen voting laws.

“As the first in the nation presidential primary state, we have an obligation to ensure the integrity of our elections,” Sununu said in a statement. “SB 3 is a modest change to our election laws that does nothing more than ensure that all those who register to vote present valid identification. While this ruling is not unexpected, it is just one step in the process and I am confident that SB 3 will ultimately be upheld.”

The ruling will do little to end the debate over voter fraud since the case still is expected to go to trial in the coming months.

Sununu also supports a second law slated to go into effect next year which imposes residency requirements on college students who wish to vote. Sununu argues this new law brings fairness to the process but opponents argue it serves as a poll tax that will discourage voting. A legal challenge also is expected with that law.