As N.H. Election Law Gets First Test, Lakes Region Voters Debate Validity Of 'Fraud'

Sep 12, 2017

The polls were set up Tuesday for a special election in New Hampshire's Lakes Region
Credit Lauren Chooljian for NHPR

It’s not exactly election season, but there’s been a lot of talk in New Hampshire lately about the voting process.

President Trump's commission on voter integrity met at Saint Anselm College in Manchester on Tuesday, just as a controversial New Hampshire election law got its first test in a special election in the Lakes Region.

That law is a subject of an ongoing court battle, and the polls opened in Laconia and Belmont just as a judge ruled that penalties associated with the law wouldn’t be taking effect, at least not today.

So, what do voters there think?

Audio for this story will be posted shortly.

It’s obvious that Laconia residents Shawne and David Randlett have each others backs. When one partner shares their opinion, the other one immediately starts nodding along aggressively in support.

"We’ve been married a long time," says David Randlett. It's obvious that the Laconia resident and his spouse have each others' backs.

"Yes," Shawne agrees, "We’ve perfected the aggressive nod."

The Randletts say voter fraud in New Hampshire is something they really worry about.

"Especially a small state like this, where just a few hundred or few thousand votes can sway one way or the other. You know when you’re looking at electoral college votes and things get tight like they did in the last election? It’s up for grabs."

And this has been a topic of conversation all round New Hampshire lately, thanks in part to a controversial election law known as SB 3.

The Republican-backed law tightens requirements for people who register to vote on or close to election day, and penalties include big fines and jail time.

SB3 took effect last week, and its first test was a special election today in Laconia and neighboring Belmont. But just as the polls opened at 7 am, a judge ruled that those penalties are off the table for now, as further hearings are needed to determine whether Senate Bill 3 can stand.

Shawne Randlett doesn’t see what the big deal is.

"I also don’t think it’s cumbersome either to ask somebody to do the paperwork and to do the legwork. If democracy and freedom mean something to you, then you darn well will get it done."

But not all of their neighbors are convinced voter fraud is a problem.

Joe Spinale threw on his Laconia bike week sweatshirt and headed to the Belmont polls right when they opened.

"I had to show my license when I voted, and I had to show it again when I cast my vote - crazy stuff," he says.

He doesn’t agree with Senate Bill 3, and he thinks people like college students, who likely have out-of-state licenses - should have no problem voting here.

"I mean, I think that people that are coming to school up here they technically live here, they should be able to vote. But as far as bringing busloads of people are here and stuff, I don’t -- that’s a bunch of BS as far as I’m concerned."

That bus bit Spinale mentions is from President Donald Trump. He told Congressional leaders in February that Massachusetts residents were brought in on buses to vote illegally in NH.

There is no evidence to supports the President’s claim.

And, Spinale says, anyone with concerns about voter fraud can come to the Belmont Town Hall after 7:00, just as the public is allowed to watch all the special election ballots get counted.