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N.H. Senate Tightens Voter Law

Associated Press
Published: 1/4/2018 12:37:50 AM
Modified: 1/4/2018 5:42:55 PM

Concord — The Republican-led New Hampshire Senate on Wednesday passed a bill to further tighten eligibility requirements for voters even though the Legislature’s previous attempt to do so remains stalled in court.

College students and others can now declare the state of their domicile for voting purposes without becoming residents subject to other requirements, such as registering their cars or getting New Hampshire driver’s licenses. Supporters of the bill say that creates two tiers of voters, and that changing the definition of residency will restore confidence in elections.

Republican President Donald Trump has alleged widespread voter fraud in New Hampshire, claiming it led to his loss to Hillary Clinton in the state, though there’s been no evidence to support that.

The residency bill passed the Senate, 14-9, with Newport-area Sen. Ruth Ward, R-Stoddard, and Haverhill-area Sen. Bob Giuda, R-Warren, joining the rest of their GOP colleagues in support of the bill.

The third Upper Valley state senator, Hanover Democrat Martha Hennessey, who has spoken out against the bill in the past, was absent for the vote because of a family emergency.

But Gov. Chris Sununu, a first-term Republican, reiterated past concerns about any legislation that would suppress the student vote.

“My position has not changed. I remain opposed to SB 372 as it is currently written,” he said in a brief statement.

The bill now goes back to the House.

“This will create consistency and clarity going forward and bring us in line with our surrounding states of Vermont, Massachusetts and Maine,” said Sen. Regina Birdsell, R-Hampstead. “We owe it to the people of New Hampshire to have complete confidence in our voting system.”

New Hampshire enacted a new law last year requiring voters who move to the state within 30 days of an election to provide proof that they intend to stay.

But the New Hampshire Democratic Party and the League of Women voters sued, saying the law was confusing, unnecessary and intimidating.

A judge in September allowed the law to take effect but blocked penalties of a $5,000 fine and a year in jail for fraud and said further hearings are necessary.

Sen. Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, said it didn’t make sense to pass a new voter eligibility law when the other one’s fate remains uncertain.

She said such legislation creates solutions to problems that don’t exist.

“We have in our election laws a process that is viewed by people from around the world. We have the first in the nation primary. Our elections have integrity,” Soucy said. “Why do we need to continually put up these deterrents and these barriers to people, be they young or old or be they people who moved here two weeks ago or people who intend to stay here for two years or 20? What are we so afraid of?”

But Republican Sen. Andy Sanborn, of Bedford, N.H., argued that such measures are necessary to restore trust in the process.

“We’re trying to fix the belief  that your vote counts,” he said.

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