By: C. Rose Moore
Round two of the “drive-by voting” battle in New Hampshire ended on September 16th, 2015 when the New Hampshire Senate failed to override Governor Maggie Hassan’s veto of Senate Bill 179. That proposal would have required potential voters to be domiciled in the state for at least thirty days prior to an election. This was the second initiative purportedly aimed at combatting this type of fraud, which can be illustrated by the actions of Vice-President Joe Biden’s niece. While “she didn’t break the letter of the law… many people think she violated the spirit of it” by voting in the 2012 elections in New Hampshire after only working on the campaign there for a short time.
The state’s previous law, SB 318, required anyone who wanted to register to vote to sign an affidavit affirming that they were a resident of New Hampshire. To vote in the state, however, an individual only needs to be “domiciled” there, which doesn’t mean being subject to New Hampshire’s residency laws. On May 15, 2015, the New Hampshire Supreme Court struck down the law after it was challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire on behalf of the League of Women Voters and other individual voters. The Court ruled: “Because the challenged language is confusing and inaccurate, and because … it could cause an otherwise qualified voter not to register to vote in New Hampshire, we hold that, as a matter of law, the burden it imposes upon the fundamental right to vote is unreasonable.”
Governor Hassan echoed this reasoning in her veto message regarding SB 179, stating that it “places unreasonable restrictions upon all New Hampshire citizens’ right to vote in this state with an arbitrary timeline that will prevent lawful residents from taking part in the robust citizen democracy that we are so proud of in the Granite State.”
What is more difficult to overlook is the clear division along party lines. The Republican dominated legislature passed SB 318 over the veto of Democratic Governor John Lynch shortly before losing control of the House in the 2012 elections. Republicans regained the House in 2014 and introduced SB 179 on January 8, 2015, but this time, they didn’t have the numbers to get the bill all the way through. With five fewer seats in the Senate, Republicans were unable to muster the required two-thirds majority to override another Democratic governor.
Unfortunately, if there really is a problem with the electoral process in New Hampshire, it isn’t being fixed. Secretary of State William Gardner, who supported SB 179, noted that “it doesn’t take much to swing state level races. [There were] three ties in the last election cycle, one in the primary and two in the general election [and] six other recounts that were single digits.” As Governor Hassan stated, however, while “[w]e must be vigilant in our efforts to prevent and aggressively prosecute voter fraud … Senate Bill 179 does not do anything to accomplish those goals. Restricting the rights of those who are constitutionally eligible to vote with a durational requirement does nothing to prevent [voter fraud].”
On the other hand, the movement to end “drive-by voting” is perceived as Republicans trying to disenfranchise minorities and the poor or the Democrats trying to allow non-residents to vote, each being equally motivated to achieve political dominance. While there are valid concerns and criticisms on both sides, as long as there is political gridlock, it seems like the debate will focus on the evil motives of the powers that be instead of how to preserve the most powerful weapon of our democracy – the right to vote.