Republican lawmakers have proposed dozens of individual bills to tighten up New Hampshire election laws this year, but one new proposal coming forward this week would on its own enact a number of changes in what’s required for voters to register and how officials are expected to verify those credentials.
The bill would specifically bar anyone who comes to New Hampshire only for “temporary purposes” from voting in the state – in this case, that includes anyone who’s here less than 30 days for vacation, anyone here for short-term work, volunteering or “working to influence voters in an upcoming election.”
If someone already voted somewhere else and planned to return to vote there again in the future, that person “does not gain a domicile in New Hampshire regardless of the duration of his or her presence in New Hampshire.”
If someone had been in the state fewer than 30 days before an election, they would have to take new steps to prove that they plan to remain in New Hampshire after the election.
Its sponsor, Sen. Regina Birdsell of Hampstead, describes the bill as a “trust but verify” approach.
“It’s not enough to have an idea in your head that you’re going to be domiciled in one place,” Birdsell says. “It’s going to require that you have an intent, and that has to be coupled with a verifiable act or proof of that act.”
If someone didn’t have proof of domicile when they registered to vote, they would still be able to register but would have to return documentation – either by mail or in person – within ten days or 30 days, depending on whether their town hall is open full-time or part-time.
If that didn’t happen, the bill would require local supervisors of the checklist to verify voters’ credentials – either on their own, through the Secretary of State or by asking local police to check in on voters while they’re out on routine patrols.
That’s one part of the proposal that has voting rights advocates especially concerned.
“We’re alarmed by some of the language in the bill,” says Paula Hodges, with the New Hampshire chapter of America Votes, who adds that potential use of police in voter verification seems “excessive, and intimidating.”
Birdsell, however, said the bill gives several options for how local officials might conduct verification of voters’ credentials after an election. She anticipates most towns will choose the option asking the Secretary of State to send a letter of verification, as they can under current law.
“I want to make sure that those who are voting in our elections have a stake in the outcome of the election,” Birdsell says.