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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Opponents raise red flags about changes to voter ID bill

CONCORD – Those speaking for local election clerks, reform advocates and civil libertarians rang alarm bells Tuesday about proposed changes to a compromise voter ID bill.

Senate Republicans had crafted a voter ID bill (SB 289) that won bipartisan support and appeared on its way to ending more than 15 years of political struggle over the issue.

Unlike other failed voter ID bills of the past, this bill from Sen. Russell Prescott, R-Kingston, permits those without an ID to vote. Instead, those without ID would have to sign a challenged voter affidavit under penalty of perjury.

This provision helped this bill win the support of both Secretary of State Bill Gardner and the state lobby for local town and city clerks.

But Rep. Will Smith, R-New Castle, fashioned a nine-page amendment that made sweeping changes.

The most significant would bump up the voter ID law’s effective date so it could be used for this November’s general election.

The Senate-passed bill allows local officials to survey how many come to the polls without an ID this fall but puts off the ID mandate until September 2014.

Smith’s changes would allow those without an ID to still vote but they would have their photograph taken unless they sought an exemption due to religious belief.

“Moderators would be issued photographic equipment and a small printer,” Smith said. “Anyone signing that affidavit would then have the picture taken. It would be printed, attached and considered that voter identification in that sense.”

Prescott told the House Election Laws Committee that he considered some of these changes not friendly amendments and pleaded with the House to embrace the Senate’s work.

Making the voter ID mandate apply this fall would invite a lawsuit that the state could lose because it did not give out enough information prior to citizens coming to the polls, Prescott said.

“I believe there would be problems at the polls, and the state of New Hampshire would be responsible for a great amount of education to the public prior to that,” Prescott said. “I would hate to lose the support of the clerks association, the secretary of state’s office and then have the Department of Justice have a court case on its lap.”

Deputy City Clerk David Scanlan said moving this mandate up to this election would put too much work on already-overburdened local election officials.

“It’s not that we are opposed to taking additional steps, but this is a lot to ask in a very short period of time,” Scanlan said, calling the Senate bill a “very clean one.”

Nancy Johnson, a lobbyist representing the town and city clerks, called the House amendment a “radical change.”

“This amendment will definitely increase waiting times at the polls and cause additional burden to clerks and election officials,” Johnson said.

Steven Steiner from Conway said New Hampshire needs to join the ranks of 30 states with some form of ID proof at the polls.

He reminded that conservatives posing as dead voters in the state’s presidential primary in January could have gotten ballots had they pressed the point.

Project Veritas organizer James O’Keefe said the gaps in local examination of voters here cries out for a voter ID mandate.

Kevin Landrigan can reached at 321-7040 or klandrigan@nashuatelegraph.com; also check out Kevin Landrigan (@KLandrigan) on Twitter and don’t forget The Telegraph’s new, interactive live feed at www.nashuatelegraph.com/topics/livefeed.