League of Women voters a watchdog for voter issues

No one will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves, and the only way they could do this is by not voting. – Franklin D. Roosevelt

The vote is the basic currency of our democratic republic. It is the mechanism by which we exercise the rights and responsibilities won by Revolution, outlined by the framers of the Constitution, and defined, re-defined, and fought for by politicians and patriots throughout our history as a nation.

Concerns about election integrity are not new. However, after the 2016 election, subsequent claims of fraud, and strong evidence of hacking by foreign interests, citizens and our representatives have a fresh interest in looking at election practices, assessing where the real risks and opportunities are, and making sure the process is fair, secure, and accessible to all voters.

The League of Women Voters of New Hampshire pays particular attention to voter issues. Using an extensive process of study and consensus-building, the League has developed advocacy positions regarding several piece of current legislation, and our representatives have testified a number of times to members of the General Court. This session, over two dozen voting-related bills were introduced and referred to the Election Law Committee for hearings and recommendations. In the past week, the Committee has voted on many of them, recommending to the full House that they are either Inexpedient to Legislate (ITL) or Ought to Pass (OTP). Final votes on the bills will take place on the floor of the House and Senate.

One group of bills addresses the issue of alleged voter fraud. Legislators have grappled with two basic questions: is it a real problem? If so, would the proposed laws reduce the possibility of fraud without infringing on eligible people’s right to vote? While proponents point to the number of out-of-state drivers licenses used as ID at the polls as evidence of fraud, others argue that anyone who has moved from another state or who comes from another state for college will naturally have an out-of-state license, with no fraudulent intent or effect. In fact, the National Commission on Voter Integrity has disbanded without reporting any findings of fraud, and while voter fraud is a crime, we have found no record of criminal or civil prosecutions for voter fraud in New Hampshire in recent years.

Nevertheless, supporters of adding eligibility requirements argue they can increase our confidence in the integrity of our elections, without negative impact on voting rights. Several bills proposing changes in voter ID rules went to committee. All but one was voted ITL. HB 1543, for example, would require college students to prove their intent to become permanent residents of New Hampshire. LWV members and others testified against it as discriminatory, and it was unanimously voted as ITL.

The one bill in the eligibility category the committee voted Ought to Pass (OTP) was HB 1264. The vote was 11-9 along party lines. It redefines the terms “resident,” “residence,” and “inhabitant” and requires a person to assert that a particular address is his/her primary residence, not just for “the indefinite future,” as currently stated, but “to the exclusion of all others.” Opponents argue this would disenfranchise people who, for example, move frequently as part of their employment; who are college students living at home between terms and whose address tends to change every year; or who are experiencing homelessness. Additionally, it would require that people who use out-of-state licenses as ID get a New Hampshire driver’s license after voting. The League opposes this bill as likely to impede eligible voters’ access to the vote without providing demonstrable benefit.

While there no credible evidence of voter fraud, there are compelling concerns about the transparency of donations and “rigging” through the practice of gerrymandering. However, the committee voted three important bills addressing rules for political contributions ITL. The LWV supported HB1773, which would establish a campaign finance fund for some state offices and a clean elections board to oversee and enforce campaign finance laws. HB 1520 would provide a procedure for citizens to request a recount of machine counted ballots under certain circumstances. League also supports this bill.

HB 1666, which was also voted ITL, deserves particular note. It proposes using a mathematical algorithm to determine whether Congressional redistricting amounts to a legal definition of gerrymandering. Several states have been sued because the parties in power after the 2010 census redrew district lines to increase the likelihood that they would remain in power in subsequent elections. Federal courts have ordered them to correct this practice, a costly and disruptive process. New Hampshire has not been sued for this kind of vote manipulation, but the authors of HB 1666 argue that an algorithm based on efficiency is the best strategy to remove all possibility of human bias in the redistricting process. The LWV supports this bill.

There are two significant Constitutional amendments among current bills. CACR 17 would allow direct citizen vote through an initiative and referendum process. CACR18 calls for the General Court to develop procedures whereby elected officials may be recalled before the end of their term. The committee voted unanimously that both bills were Inexpedient to Legislate (ITL). The LWV supports CACR18 as a method by which citizens can hold legislators accountable.

The Constitution “… secure(s) the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” We show our gratitude for these blessings by conscientiously exercising our own right to vote. We show devotion to the American ideal by making sure those who come after us aren’t denied this right for political gain. None of the bills described above has had its final vote. Anyone may read the full text of any bill in the General Court by going to gencourt.state.nh.us. Those wanting to contact a representative on the Election Law Committee to express his or her opinion can find names, home addresses, and email addresses by clicking the Standing Committees button. There is also a complete list of state Senators and Representatives on the website. Our local representatives do want to hear from us. In addition, readers can find information about legislation, voter rights, responsibilities, and procedures at the LWV New Hampshire website, lwvnh.org.

Notice: The League of Women Voters – Greater Nashua is hosting an informational meeting for prospective members on Sunday, March 25th at the Nashua Library from 2:30 -3:30 p.m.

The LWV, a nonpartisan political organization, encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy. Residents of Nashua and the greater Nashua area who are interested in working in their local community to educate and inform the electorate on issues of local importance are encouraged to attend. Any person 16 or older, male or female, may become a League member.