Secretary of State Bill Gardner says he would not support legislation if he believed it would hurt voter turnout. And as he sees it, a new bill that would impose new requirements on voters who register within 30 days of an election does not run the risk of doing that.
“We're not denying anyone who shows up at the polls to be able to vote, we're just saying we want to be able to let everyone know these votes are valid and true,” Gardner told lawmakers at a Tuesday hearing on Senate Bill 3, a Republican-backed voting reform bill introduced this week.
The secretary stuck by his affirmation that the bill would not disenfranchise voters when asked specifically about a provision in the bill that would warn new registrants they might face police checks if they don’t provide the right kind of proof that they’re eligible.
Democratic Sen. Donna Soucy, quoting from the most recent version of the bill, pointed to language asking voters to acknowledge that “law enforcement or other officials may be taking actions to verify my domicile at this address.”
“Isn’t that so intimidating that some people will walk away and lose their right to vote,” Soucy asked, “or feel that their right is being threatened because of some other action in their life, because of some personal circumstances?”
“It would certainly be intimidating to a person who has doubts whether they’re ever going to be able to show that information,” Gardner replied. “How intimidating it would be to a person who just came without it and made a mistake, every individual can weigh that using their own belief.”
Soucy followed up with another question: “Would you believe that if even one or two people find that so intimidating that they walk away, I think we will have struck the balance on the wrong side and actually harmed and violated the rights of certain citizens?”
“I would hope that someone who is eligible to vote would not be intimidated by that,” Gardner replied.
(The most recent version of the bill is not online, but a copy of the text distributed at this week's public hearing can be read in full here. The excerpt below shows some of the new language it would add to the voter registration form for people registering within 30 days of an election.)
Others were less optimistic — not just about the inclusion of police in voter verification. Some argued the new language the bill would add to the voter registration form is so complicated that it would amount to a literacy test, and that its requirements would place an extra burden on people who have to move around for school, work or other reasons.
Some also took issue with the bill’s creation of separate requirements for people who register within 30 days of an election.
“Your hasty amendment targets voters who change resident or choose to legally register on Election Day,” Newbury Town Moderator Nancy Marashio told lawmakers Tuesday. “Those voters deserve to be treated equally.”
Marashio said none of the local election officials in her town, a group that includes both Democrats and Republicans, support the bill. She urged lawmakers to take more time to consult with local officials about its implications before moving forward.
“Instead of being guided along party lines, be guided by election officials and the voters we all represent,” Marashio said.
Critics of the bill far outnumbered supporters at Tuesday’s hearing, which had to be moved to Representatives’ Hall to accommodate those who showed up to testify. The New Hampshire Chiefs of Police, the League of Women Voters and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire are opposing the bill.
The New Hampshire Municipal Association did not take a formal position for or against the measure but raised concerns about its potential to burden local officials.
Outside of the Secretary of State, the bill has the support of Gov. Chris Sununu, several Republican lawmakers and the Granite State Taxpayers, which has filed right-to-know requests seeking information into the state’s activities around investigating voter fraud.