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Sunday, May 1, 2011

Voter ID bill based on false allegations

The New Hampshire Legislature does a disservice to the citizens of the state when it legislates on the basis of unfounded allegations of “rampant voter fraud” without demanding actual, verifiable evidence.

Investigations by the Secretary of State and the Attorney General since 2004 haven’t found any multiple voting, voter impersonation, or non-citizen voting but, nevertheless, legislators are using fraud to justify bills that make it so difficult to vote, many won’t even try.

A current bill, SB129, requires a government-issued ID to get a ballot on Election Day. Those without can use a provisional ballot which will be counted if the voter shows an ID to the town clerk within three days. The provisional ballot includes a signed affidavit so the ballot will no longer be secret. Voter impersonation is the only fraud a photo ID prevents. Ballot clerks can see if two people claim the same identity, so it’s the easiest crime to detect without a photo ID law.

Pollworkers take an oath to uphold the Constitution and laws, including reporting suspected voter fraud. A pollworker who doesn’t report fraud is guilty of election fraud. With pollworkers required to report fraud and an easy system for anyone to challenge a voter, claims of rampant voter fraud don’t stand up to scrutiny. In fact,verified cases of voter fraud are nearly unheard of in the U.S.

New Hampshire citizens must appear in person before an election official and meet stringent requirements to register to vote. A computerized statewide database is updated when people die or move and reregister elsewhere. Periodically, including this year, every name on the list is checked and verified.

Some imagine voter fraud because they don’t know the facts. For instance, a physical address is required for registration and the checklist. If you send postcards to everyone on the checklist, many will be returned because of people who get mail at a post office.

Others are unclear about qualifications to vote. The New Hampshire Constitution is unambiguous: “All elections are to be free, and every inhabitant of the state 18 years of age and upwards shall have an equal right to vote in any election. Every person shall be considered an inhabitant for the purposes of voting in the town, ward or unincorporated place where he has his domicile.”

People can have many residences, in many places, but they can only claim one as a “domicile” for voting. That’s where a person sleeps most of the time, keeps possessions, and conducts his or her civic, social and cultural life. Courts have ruled students and members of the military can vote where they go to school or where they are stationed. They can choose to vote absentee at their previous domicile but there is no requirement that they do so.

There are allegations that people who are “bused in” to vote are committing fraud. Campaigns, since the days of horse and carriage, have been arranging rides to the polls. Campus organizations arrange buses to take students to vote. There’s nothing illegal about it.

Separating a “right” from a “choice” can be confusing. Any citizen, 18 or older, has the “right” to vote. There’s no test or fee, and no one can take away the right except for a serious crime. States have a limited right to adopt laws about where people vote and to verify citizenship and age. A state may not arbitrarily deny a citizen’s right to vote.

Getting a license, a passport or joining the military are all “choices.” You don’t have to do those things. If you choose to, the state can decide whether they’ll allow it and impose a fee. Tens of thousands of New Hampshire citizens do not drive, own a passport or join the military. They have chosen not to, haven’t had the opportunity, can’t afford it or can’t meet the requirements. Most of them are disabled, elderly, young, poor or minority group members.

An estimated 60,000 to 75,000 New Hampshire citizens won’t have the photo ID required under SB129 at the next election. There’s no reason to believe they are fraudulent voters, but that’s what a photo ID law does.

SB129 hurts people who have voted for decades just as much as new voters. It’s an unnecessary bill based on unfounded allegations. It casts suspicion on the integrity of every New Hampshire citizen and it’s very likely to raise questions about New Hampshire’s standing to hold the first-in-the-nation primary.

Liz Tentarelli and Sally Davis are co-presidents of the New Hampshire League of Women Voters. Joan Flood Ashwell, election law specialist, also contributed.