The Hippo


May 25, 2020








New voting rules
What voters need to know

By Ryan Lessard

 Earlier this year, Gov. Chris Sununu signed a law that takes effect Sept. 8 and changes the way voters are vetted during the registration process in an effort to weed out folks who are only in the state temporarily. 

“I think we wanted to kind of home in on the temporary — the less-than-30-day temporary residents,” said state Sen. Regina Birdsell, the bill’s prime sponsor. “Sometimes those [are people] working on campaigns that travel from … state to state during a primary season or even a general election.”
The goal of the bill, Birdsell said, is a “preventative measure” to address the concerns of her constituents.
“From what I heard from my constituents, they didn’t feel comfort in the integrity of our electoral system and this was in response to some of their concerns,” Birdsell said.
For voters who have a state-issued ID with their current address on it, nothing will appear to have changed. But for people who recently moved or are registering for the first time in a community, they’ll need to prove they reside in that community with documentation.
“That’s basically, as far as I’m concerned, that’s it. That’s the biggest change,” Birdsell said.
While that may not seem significant, voter rights groups are concerned it may discourage voter registration and town clerks and election monitors are faced with additional work.
Past attempts to weed out temporary residents or campaign workers included bills that would have done away with same-day registration and defined “domicile” as having lived in New Hampshire for 30 days before election day.
That is not what this law does. People in New Hampshire are still going to be able to register on the same day as the election, and vote even if they don’t have their “proof” of domicile with them that day. But the spirit of the 30-day rule lives on in the way in which officials will now start to define temporary voters and enforce the new proof requirements.
So, what does a voter need bring in order to register?
David Scanlan, the deputy secretary of state, said if you go into the town offices to register prior to 30 days before election day, you need to show an ID with an address in that town or city ward. Absent an ID, you  can show a government issued check, a federal picture ID or a vehicle registration. If you don’t have those, the clerk will instruct you to leave and come back with one of those documents. If you don’t have those, you can use other forms of documentation to state your intent to make your physical address your  domicile. For college students, this can be a letter from their university or dorm supervisor. 
Homebuyers can show evidence of a recent purchase; renters who have a lease longer than 30 days can show lease documents, and utility bills sent to that address will also suffice.
Someone who registers within 30 days of an election or on election day and doesn’t have their proof of domicile will be able to fill out a different form. 
Scanlan said the first page is essentially the same but Page 2 replaces the old domicile affidavit, which he said has been part of New Hampshire law since the late 1970s. Instead, the voter agrees to supply the required documents within 10 days. If the town clerk’s office isn’t open for 20 hours or more each week, that deadline gets extended to 30 days.
In practice, one does not need to reside in their address for 30 days ahead of an election so long as they demonstrate their “intent” to stick around as this law defines it.
It defines being in the state for temporary purposes as being here for fewer than 30 days, unless intent to domicile is otherwise proven, and is here for tourism, visiting family and friends, performing short-term work, volunteering or working to influence voters. 
Failure to provide the necessary documents in the time given will result in local town officials sending notices to individuals about removing their names from the checklist. 
Then it triggers a sort of follow-up investigation.
“If they don’t provide that information then … the local election officials are authorized to follow up on that, either by reviewing documents that are already in the town records … or they would be authorized to visit the voter’s location … to confirm that that person resides there,” Scanlan said.
An earlier version of the bill allowed for towns to use police as part of this process, but that language was removed from the final version over concerns that it intimidated voters.
Potential side effects
Scanlan said it’s too early to say how big an effect these new requirements will have on the workload of town clerks and other municipal officers tasked with enforcing them. He said it’s safe to say some additional resources will be needed.
“But until we actually do it, we don’t know to what degree,” Scanlan said.
In the worst-case scenario, communities could be saddled with long lists of names of same-day registrants and others who promised to bring in papers later, resulting in a mini-census effort to confirm people lived where they said they lived.
Some smaller-scale elections will help to give them a sense of how easy or hard it will be. Manchester has a primary election for city positions on Sept. 19, during which there will also be a primary for the District 15 state rep special election. And there’s also a special election for District 9 state rep. Scanlan said the secretary of state’s office is not tracking the additional hours spent enforcing the rules, but they will be listening to town officials and observing polling stations.
Mike O’Brien with America Votes-New Hampshire and the New Hampshire Campaign for Voting Rights said the new rules could result in long lines at the polling stations, which could deter voters. He also said confusion around the bill and fear of a $5,000 fine if they don’t think they can return the papers in 10 or 30 days are likely to scare away voters.
“We have confidence that our local election officials will do all they can to ensure a smooth process on election day but as the process becomes more complicated for voters it becomes more complicated for election workers as well,” O’Brien said in an email. 

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