EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 16, 2013

N.H. Voter ID Law under attack

Phase II to take effect this fall

By John Toole
jtoole@eagletribune.com

---- — A year after New Hampshire asked voters to present photo identifications at the polls, state lawmakers are considering repeal of the new Voter ID Law.

Bills introduced in the House and Senate would end the practice.

Other House and Senate bills, meanwhile, would repeal the second phase of implementation of the law or delay it for a year.

That phase would require election workers to photograph voters who refuse to present a a photo ID and instead sign an affidavit swearing to their identity. The photo would go with the affidavit.

The New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union and League of Women Voters of New Hampshire are among those advocating repeal.

"Studies consistently document that voter ID requirements have a negative impact on civic participation and disproportionately suppress voters who are elderly, minorities or who have lower incomes," NHCLU executive director Devon Chaffee told a House panel in testimony this month favoring repeal.

But the law has strong defenders in powerful positions in the Legislature.

"Last year, for the first time, New Hampshire voters could rest assured that the electoral process in New Hampshire was more secure," House Republican Leader Gene Chandler, R-Bartlett, said in opposing repeal. "It's unfortunate we have to re-examine voter ID measures, which a bipartisan majority of voters support. It would be helpful if we could observe how the process works for more than just one election before having to examine repealing it."

Chaffee warns of more trouble ahead with the law. Phase II changes, slated for September in time for municipal primaries, would end acceptance of student IDs to vote.

"That would not be allowed," she said.

Questions are being raised about whether special voter IDs issued by the state last year, which bear no expiration, would still be valid when Phase II, which requires expiration dates, is implemented, Chaffee said.

"I certainly hope the Legislature will act to repeal voter ID," she said.

League of Women Voters of New Hampshire co-president Liz Tentarelli said the group is supporting repeal of the law.

"We are strong supporters of the right of everyone to vote," Tentarelli said. "We believe requiring a photo ID infringes on that right for some people."

Tentarelli cited elders, disabled people and students as voters the photo ID requirement could negatively affect.

The new photo requirement for those signing affidavits also is costly, requiring cameras and printers at every polling place, she said.

"I think the prospect for repeal of the more stringent Phase II is very good," Tentarelli said.

But she concedes she is not so sure about the photo ID request instituted last year.

The Secretary of State's Office isn't taking a stand on the repeal efforts, but is advising legislators.

"We have been providing information," Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan said. "Our position is that what the Legislature decides to do is policy, the issue is up to them."

For the first time in November, voters in New Hampshire were required to either display a valid ID – a driver's license, passport or student ID, for example. Or voters could instead sign an affidavit swearing to their identity.

Of about 700,000 voters who went to the polls, just 5,650 chose the affidavit option.

Despite concerns about possible disruptions at the polls, election workers reported no trouble.

"All things considered, it went pretty well," Scanlan said.

Tentarelli acknowledges that as far as everyone knows, the law did work last fall, that voters weren't turned away.

"But we may never know how many people never went to the polls because they thought a photo ID was needed," she said.

About those affidavits. The law requires state officials to follow up with voters afterward. That process is taking place now.

Scanlan said those 5,650 voters received a letter from the Secretary of State with a postage-paid postcard, asking them to affirm they did vote.

"That is still a work in progress," Scanlan said last week.

Voters have until April 7 to return their postcard. So far, 3,647 of them have done so.

"We're still almost 2,000 short of what we need," Scanlan said.

Some letters came back without a response.

"We have had 337 mailings that came back undeliverable as addressed," Scanlan said.

When voters don't respond, the Secretary of State provides information about them to the Attorney General's Office for followup.

"They should expect to hear from the attorney general if they don't," Scanlan said.

There's no penalty under the voter ID law for people who refuse to respond.

But voter fraud is another matter. Should the attorney general determine someone voted illegally, that could lead to prosecution and, ultimately, under state law fines or jail time for offenders.

Scanlan said the attorney general's review could take several months.

"This process will take some time," Scanlan said. "In the end, we may get some very interesting responses."

Bills to watch: House Bill 287, House version of voter ID repeal. In House Election Law Committee. Hearing held Feb. 5. Senate Bill 183, Senate version of voter ID repeal. Hearing set Wednesday before Senate Public and Municipal Affairs Committee, 9:15 a.m. in room 102 of the Legislative Office Building. HB 595, House bill repealing Phase II of the voter ID law. In House Election Law Committee. Hearing held last week. SB 182, Senate bill delaying for one year Phase II of the voter ID law. Hearing set Wednesday before Senate Public and Municipal Affairs Committee, 9 a.m. in room 102 of the Legislative Office Building.