By Doug Ireland
---- — There were so many recent revisions to New Hampshire’s voter ID law, even state officials couldn’t keep up with the changes.
As a legislative conference committee considered potential changes before passing a final version of the law three weeks ago, many people who weren’t sure what happened to the controversial measure.
So they called The League of Women Voters of New Hampshire to find out the latest changes, according to league election law specialist Joan Flood Ashwell. The league is well known for its efforts to educate the public about voting.
“We heard from people who were confused, including election officials,” she said. “One day it was one thing, the next day it was another thing. We got a lot of calls when they lost track of it.”
While Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan said the changes have little impact on most voters, a few of the revisions are significantly different than what previously existed.
Effective Sept. 1, the new law will still allow for student IDs after it was proposed they not be allowed because of the potential for election fraud. But the student IDs must have been issued by New Hampshire schools, Scanlan said. That was not a requirement of the previous law.
Other identification accepted are a driver’s license or other photo ID issued by any state, a U.S. Armed Services ID or a U.S. passport or passcard. The New Hampshire Division of Motor Vehicles also issues photo IDs for voting only.
The IDs cannot have expired more than five years ago unless the voter is 65 or older. This means some senior citizens will no longer be discouraged from voting because they do not drive anymore and don’t have a valid license, Ashwell said.
The conference committee decided that a plan for poll workers to photograph voters without IDs be delayed for two years. But these voters must still sign an affidavit attesting to their identity.
While town clerks have said it would be a nightmare on Election Day to photograph voters, critics of the revised law say postponing this provision for two years is detrimental.
Those critics include former Rep. David Bates, R-Windham, who helped craft the original law before deciding not to seek re-election last fall.
“My feeling is these changes viscerate the law we passed last session and make it absolutely useless,” he said. “It’s only a shell of a law.”
The law has deterred voter fraud since it was implemented during the November 2012 election and did not the need major changes that have altered its purpose, Bates said.
The new version gives election officials the authority to accept any voter ID they believe to be “legitimate,” allowing for interpretation of what is acceptable with no uniform standard, he said.
Bates said delaying photographing voters for two years postpones — and endangers — a crucial portion of the law.
“People are less likely to commit a felony such as election fraud if their photo is taken while they are voting,” he said.
But election officials, including Pelham Town Clerk Dorothy Marsden, are relieved that portion of the law is on hold. She and other Southern New Hampshire clerks have said there are too many questions about the provision and said it would add to their already huge workload during an election.
“I think it’s going to cause a lot of backups — who is going to do it and who is going to pay for it?” she said. “I’m not in favor of it. I don’t think anybody likes it.”