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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Voter ID law will require state to contact tens of thousands of people after Nov. 6 vote

New Hampshire election officials may have to hunt down nearly 50,000 people in November and ask whether they really voted.

That’s one possible conclusion from Tuesday’s dry run of the state’s new voter ID law, which also produced some hard feelings, irritation and a bit of rudeness, judging from comments recorded by ballot clerks at Nashua’s Ward 2.

Roughly 7 percent of the 7,570 people who voted in Nashua on Tuesday didn’t have a photo ID or didn’t want to show it. Figures for ID-less voters varied around the region, from 2 percent in Hudson to more than 10 percent in some Souhegan Valley towns. Statewide figures were not available Wednesday.

But let’s assume the 7 percent figure holds true statewide in November – and City Clerk Paul Bergeron expects it to rise in Nashua, since the presidential race will draw lots of casual voters who won’t know about the new law.

Then consider that 700,000 people voted in New Hampshire’s last presidential election, a number that also seems likely to rise.

The conclusion? At least 49,000 people may have to fill out and sign an affidavit attesting to their identity before they can vote, which could lead to long lines at voting places, the need for more poll workers and, assuming a longer wait, some people turning away from voting entirely.

It also will lead to another job: Under state law, the attorney general’s office is supposed to contact all those people after the election to confirm their identity. That investigation won’t affect any results, since November ballot results will stand unless individually challenged, but it won’t be easy.

Judging from the comments recorded at Charlotte Avenue School on Tuesday, plenty about the new law didn’t strike some people as being easy.

The ballot clerks started keeping an unofficial record of responses after a voter got angry when asked to see a photo ID. It was the only such record made in the city, and apparently in the region.

“One voter gave them a hard time, and they decided they’d better keep track,” Bergeron said.

The record of about two dozen reactions isn’t necessarily a reflection of the public’s feelings, since only strong opinions were noted. Even so, it shows that the new law wasn’t entirely popular.

“Lots and lots of negative comments, even from people showing their license,” wrote one clerk.

“They didn’t like the idea of having to show it,” wrote another.

“Law clearly designed to keep out seniors and minorities,” a voter said, according to another comment. Another was “very outspoken, blamed Republicans for unfair, unjust law.”

Still, not everybody was negative: “Glad you’re doing it” was a comment noted at one point.

About 7 percent of the 7,570 people who voted in Nashua didn’t have an ID or didn’t want to show it Tuesday, according to the clerks’ tally.

Even without an ID, they could still vote Tuesday. In November, however, ID-less voters will have to fill out an affidavit swearing to their name and address, leading to fears of long lines, clogged polling places and perhaps some people who give up on the whole idea of voting.

A year from now, people without ID also will have to get their picture taken at the polling place.

No official complaints or objections have been filed with the state about the new law, which was approved by the state Legislature over Gov. Lynch’s veto, and has been ruled as legal by the federal Department of Justice.

“There a lot of anecdotal reports. For the most part, most people accepted the voter ID law, although more than a few voters were upset with being asked for photo ID,” said Dave Scanlan deputy secretary of state.

Scanlan, who oversees elections in New Hampshire, said he had heard “some issues where some ballot clerks were more aggressive than they should have in implementing the law.”

Voters without an ID should have been handed information about the new law and then allowed to vote Tuesday, but some clerks apparently went further.

The League of Women Voters and the liberal activities group New Hampshire Citizens Alliance for Action claimed Wednesday that voters without identification were turned away from two wards in Manchester, and that some towns, including Barrington and Newmarket, had signs incorrectly indicating that voters must have identification.

Interviews Tuesday with moderators around the region found no big problems, with the large majority of voters showing their ID and moving on. One Brookline voter planned to protest the new law outside that town’s polling place.

Nashua clerk Bergeron said one unexpected problem did crop up: Two voters took their ballot but left their ID, forcing the city to hunt them down later.

“They have this problem all the time at retail stores, but we’ve never encountered it before,” he said.

In fact, the Ward 2 comments showed more carelessness with driver’s licenses than you might expect.

“Left it in the car” and “left wallet at home” were among the reasons given by ID-less voters.

David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or dbrooks@nashua Follow Brooks’ blog on Twitter (@GraniteGeek).