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Editorial: Voting ‘Reform’ in N.H.

Published: 11/30/2016 9:00:01 PM
Modified: 11/30/2016 9:00:05 PM

Perhaps New Hampshire Republicans hoped to tinker with state election laws to their advantage without attracting too much attention to the issue, but then President-elect Donald Trump employed his bully pulpit — his volatile Twitter account.

Trump claimed on Sunday that something like 3 million illegal voters had denied him his rightful majority in the popular vote, without offering a shred of evidence. New Hampshire, California and Virginia were rife with voter fraud, he tweeted. Officials in all three states were baffled by his assertion, which observers say might have been inspired by the notoriously unreliable Infowars website. It’s not an auspicious sign for those hoping for more-presidential demeanor from our soon-to-be commander in chief.

It would be best for the Granite State to ignore Trump’s protestations and leave well enough alone. Given that New Hampshire Assistant Attorney General Brian Buonamano told The Associated Press that his department is looking into fewer than five complaints about possible voting fraud, the winds for election reform in the state should resemble the thrust of a gnat.

Indeed, Gov.-elect Chris Sununu made no sweeping claims of problems when he revealed soon after Nov. 8 that he would seek to scrap same-day voter registration. “We just needs our laws tighter,’’ he said. “It’s really about making sure that our rules are clear, that they’re unambiguous … that your vote isn’t being watered down by someone who’s drive-through voting.”

But New Hampshire’s same-day registration law is a boon for new residents and for those who have difficulty getting out of work to register at municipal offices. Local people who volunteered at the Lebanon polls have spoken of the hundreds of new voters drawn by the excitement and turbulence of the national campaign to register on election day. It was certainly a good moment for democracy.

In the recent past, voting law changes in Republican-dominated states have clearly been aimed — despite denials — at suppressing turnout among minorities. Republicans lay the groundwork by raising spurious fears of voter fraud, though it’s strange how some of them cling to scant evidence in this instance and push away boatloads of it on subjects such as climate change.

Of course, there is an alternative explanation for what Republicans want to address in New Hampshire: Same-day registration seemingly favors Democratic candidates. In fact, college-aged voters help deliver strong margins in towns such as Hanover and Durham. Some Republicans assert that those students have little stake in New Hampshire affairs, but given the Legislature’s history of grudging support for higher education, that’s hardly the case.

But there’s a bigger picture here. As the rate of voter participation declines nationally, New Hampshire can be proud of its turnout rate — over 70 percent in the presidential election. To interfere with that without good cause would be unfortunate; for Sununu to make it one of his first priorities is curious. In the shadow of Trump’s electoral fantasies, New Hampshire residents should be skeptical about the need for changes and the motives behind them.




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