November 23, 2011 | Leave a Comment
In September 2011, New Hampshire state senators failed to override the gubernatorial veto of Senate Bill No. 129, which would have imposed identification requirements on New Hampshire voters. More specifically, the Bill would have required voters to present a valid voter identification (as specified in the Bill) on Election Day before being able to cast their ballots. For those voters without valid IDs on Election Day, the Bill granted them the ability to vote using a provisional ballot with the requirement that the voter show his or her official ID two-and-a-half days later. According to one source, the proposed law would have been “one of the most regressive voter photo ID laws in the nation,” and Governor John Lynch (D) claimed that the Bill would “create a real risk that voters would be denied their right to vote.” To support his veto, Gov. Lynch pointed to the positive state of elections in New Hampshire, specifically high voter turnout, the absence of fraud issues, and strong election laws, and he relied upon those reasons – among others – to justify not needing a strict voter identification law in New Hampshire.
As in many states where such voter identification laws have been adopted or discussed, many New Hampshire residents have expressed concerns that a strict voter identification law would result in disenfranchisement for certain classes of individuals. Representative Terie Norelli (D), in opposition to the Bill, stated, “We do not want to disenfranchise our seniors or our young people or low-income voters. Those are the groups that would have the most difficult time complying [with the voter identification requirements].” These concerns are not without merit. For example, the Brennan Center for Justice conducted a study and found that requiring voters to show a voter ID or birth certificate would pose challenges for over 5 million voters who would otherwise be eligible to vote. Concerns about racial discrimination that might result from or motivate passage of voter identification laws have caused South Carolina’s recent voter identification law to come under close scrutiny by the U.S. Department of Justice, and in Wisconsin, questions have arisen about the desirability of its voter identification law when a memo was released telling Department of Motor Vehicles staff not to alert members of the public about the availability of a free voting ID unless they expressly asked for it.
On the other side of this issue, however, stand strong reasons in favor of allowing for voter identification laws, not the least of which includes the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Crawford v. Marion County Election Bd., 128 S. Ct. 1610 (2008), in which the Court upheld an Indiana statute that imposed voter identification requirements. Approximately thirty states have some sort of voter identification requirement, consisting either of official documents showing the name of the voter all the way up to strict photo identification requirements. Voter ID bills have been praised for “diminish[ing] the ability of those with nefarious intent to engage in voter fraud, thus maintaining ‘one person, one vote.’” A well drafted bill would thus ensure that voters could participate on Election Day with minimal interruption and without imposing burdensome or unnecessary paperwork on election workers.
The real lynchpin on this issue – at least in New Hampshire – appears to be administrative concerns with voter identification requirements. In New Hampshire, for example, town clerks were relieved that the State Senate did not override the gubernatorial veto, particularly given the provisional voting requirements. Town clerks expressed concern that the provisional ballot would serve as a logistical “nightmare” for clerks and would “create confusion and delay election results.” According to one clerk, the provisional balloting provisions would pose serious issues especially because candidates must be able to review election results and decide by 5PM on the Friday after an election if they want a recount. If provisional voters have two and a half days after Election Day to verify their results, this could pose a real time crunch and logistical nightmare. In fact, it appears that the provisional ballot provisions of the Bill was the real sticking point for Sen. Russell Prescott (R), one of the Republican senators who supported Gov. Lynch’s veto of the Bill. Although Senator Prescott has made clear that he supports requiring voter identification, he felt that the provisional ballot sections of the Bill imposed undue burdens on local governments and voters, thereby “jeopardiz[ing] [the State’s] standing in bringing meaningful reform in the future when such needs arise.” Senator Prescott suggests that if the Bill were revamped to impose less hurdles and burdens on town officials and voters through the provisional ballot sections, then he would in no way be opposed to supporting the passage of such a bill.
Therefore, despite this seeming victory for anti-voter identification advocates in New Hampshire and around the US, given the national proclivity in favor of voter identification laws, U.S. Supreme Court cases on point, and the fact that two New Hampshire lawmakers have expressed an intention to file new bills, this issue is far from resolved in both New Hampshire and nationally.