Register to vote this week, not at the polls

Ever since the state Legislature enacted a same-day voter registration law in 1993, New Hampshire residents have enjoyed the luxury of registering to vote at the polls on Election Day.

To hear Nashua City Clerk Paul Bergeron tell it, however, it will be anything but a “luxury” for those individuals who choose to wait until that time to register to vote this year.

That’s because what’s shaping up as an every-vote-counts presidential election and the implementation of the state’s new voter photo ID law are expected to make New Hampshire polls busy places on Nov. 6.

“When people call us, they say, ‘I can just register at the polls.’ Well, you can, but you’ll have to wait in two lines to do it,” Bergeron said Monday before leading a training session for an estimated 200 workers who will staff the city’s nine polling places. “At some wards, we have lines that go clear out the door.”

Instead, Bergeron and his counterparts across the state are encouraging those individuals who have yet to register to vote – or who want to change their name, address or party affiliation – to do so prior to Saturday’s deadline.

Under state law, all city and town clerks must be available to register voters this Saturday from at least 11-11:30 a.m., though that period can run longer depending on the community. In Nashua, for example, the city clerk’s office will be open Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon; in Merrimack, the hours are 10:30 a.m. to noon. Residents should contact their city or town clerk’s office for the specific hours in their community.

After Saturday, unregistered voters will have
no other option than to register at the polls on Election Day.

For those who do, they might want to bring a good book. The state’s new voter ID law – enacted by the Republican-led Legislature over the veto of Gov. John Lynch – is certain to make voting for at least some a more time-consuming experience.

Under the new law, voters who do not have – or choose not to show – an acceptable photo ID will be asked to step aside and fill out a “challenged voter affidavit.” The form, to be filled out under the penalty of perjury, essentially states, for the record, that you are whom you say you are. Once completed and returned, voters will be handed a ballot.

How many residents will fill out an affidavit before they are permitted to vote next month?

No one really knows. During last month’s primary election, roughly 7 percent of voters around the state did not show a photo ID prior to voting, which would translate to about 49,000 people based on the 700,000 voters who participated in the 2008 presidential election.

We haven’t been bashful about stating our opposition to GOP-driven efforts in recent years to enact a photo ID law in New Hampshire (“widespread voter fraud is a Republican concocted myth,” we wrote Sept. 11) or in expressing fears that the new law could discourage some voters who do not have a voter ID – predominantly the poor, disabled and elderly – from voting at all.

And reports that city and town clerks are gearing up for long lines of people looking to register or fill out no-ID affidavits isn’t going to help.

Perhaps one of these years, our state lawmakers will consider legislation to make it easier for residents to vote instead of erecting hurdles for them to leap over to carry out their most sacred civic duty.