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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

House ups ante with voter ID bill

Telegraph Editorial

If a voter ID bill fails to emerge from the state Legislature this year, supporters won’t have much trouble figuring out who to blame: their Republican “friends” in the House of Representatives.

For perhaps lost in last week’s chaos of a Nazi salute and an insincere apology was the Republican-controlled chamber’s action on a bill to require voters to show a photo ID before getting a ballot.

Specifically, it turned aside a Senate-approved bill that had earned the backing of Secretary of State William Gardner and the New Hampshire City & Town Clerks Association in favor of its own version that did not.

And since Gov. John Lynch has made it clear he has no intention of permitting such a bill to pass without a veto fight – he already has won four veto showdowns over GOP-sponsored voter ID bills – every vote will count.

Last Tuesday, after state Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, R-Manchester, made national news by uttering the vile words “Sieg Heil” during a dispute with House Speaker William O’Brien, the House voted, 226-115, to approve a heavily rewritten version of the original Senate bill (SB 289), which had passed that chamber by a veto-proof 18-5 vote.

That bill was the brainchild of Sen. Russell Prescott, R-Kingston, who crafted the legislation in such a way to earn the support of Gardner and the clerks’ association – the very people who would be responsible for implementing a voter ID law in cities and towns across the state – after years of opposition.

And while the clerks anticipated some changes to the bill by the House, they weren’t quite prepared for the final product that emerged from the House Election Laws Committee.

Among the key changes:

 • First and foremost, the new law would take effect this year in time for the November presidential election; the Senate version wouldn’t apply until the statewide elections of 2014.

 • The only acceptable forms of photo identification would be a driver’s license, a nondriver’s license issued by the director of motor vehicles, an armed services identification card and a passport; Senate language included other forms of identification issued by federal, state, county or municipal governments, as well as valid student identification cards.

 • Voters without an acceptable photo ID card would be required to sign an affidavit and have their photos taken at the polls, though an exemption would be granted based on religious objections; the Senate bill did not include the photo requirement.

Up to now, The Telegraph has consistently opposed photo ID bills on the grounds that – as written – they would discourage people without photo ID cards from voting.

That was particularly true with last year’s vetoed bill (SB 129), which would have required those without a photo ID to cast a provisional ballot that wouldn’t count unless they presented a valid photo ID to their city or town clerk within three days after the election.

While we have yet to take a formal position on the Senate bill, it is certainly preferable to the more rigid House rewrite. We fear it wouldn’t leave enough time to educate the public and would place an unreasonable burden on city and town clerks to carry out in time for what is expected to be a high-turnout presidential election less than six months away.

Remember: There is little evidence to suggest voter fraud is or has ever been a problem in New Hampshire – the infamous Project Veritas stunt during January’s presidential primary notwithstanding. So there is no need to rush into law any bill that has the potential to turn away voters.