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Sunday, March 25, 2012

J obs and economy, not voter ID bills, should be a priority

It is astounding that the leadership of the New Hampshire House claims jobs and the economy are the top priority but instead spends its time pushing an agenda to place barriers and restrictions on voting in New Hampshire.

Voter photo ID is a bill in search of a problem. In New Hampshire, voter fraud is virtually non-existent and there are policies and procedures in place to address such instances when complaints are filed.

We must take care in our government to not legislate based on perception, or allegations, but rather on fact. House leadership should be ashamed for recently endorsing a contrived sting operation produced by James O’Keefe and Project Veritas which broke New Hampshire laws and traditions.

Keeping with his track record of misleading campaigns and poor decisions, James O’Keefe committed voter fraud as he tried to advance the cause of voter ID laws that limit the access to the ballot for qualified voters.

What he did was wrong and, in the end, the only thing he proved was that he needs better legal advice.

Voter impersonation, which photo ID would seek to address, is the rarest kind of voter fraud.

When you look at the practical effect having to show an official photo ID would have on the overall voting population, you will discover that with the policy comes inexcusable unintended consequences.

Requiring a photo ID to vote or filling out a challenged voter affidavit every time you vote would disproportionately affect the elderly, the disabled and the poor.

There are seniors in our state who do not have photo IDs either because they have never had it or no longer drive.

Other populations who do not drive either by choice, because disability prevents them, or because they cannot afford the costs of a motor vehicle also often do not possess photo IDs. We should not be making it any harder for them to exercise their right to vote – especially when none of these population groups have any history of committing voter fraud.

The real reason elected officials in Concord are trying to pass legislation is to make it harder and more intimidating for people to vote.

Not only is the goal to institute photo IDs in the state, but the goal is also to completely change our current laws that protect voters.

Those changes include redefining domicile – without considering the effects the language change has on more than 650 other New Hampshire state statutes. Those changes also include changing our voter registration forms.

The House also recently passed HB 1301, which will now allow individuals to challenge a voter at the polls without stating a reason in writing.

If passed by the Senate, this law will open up a can of worms that leads to voter intimidation, mass indiscriminate challenges and slower lines at the polls.

All of these changes will have real practical implications for voters who show up at the polls on Nov. 6.

The real question is: With so much time spent trying to make it harder to vote, how can House leadership have anytime to work on jobs and the economy?

Jessica Clark is political and field director of America Votes Concord.