N.H.'s Same-Day Voter Registration Likely Here To Stay, For Now

Feb 8, 2017

While Representative Norman Silber, a first-term Republican from Gilford, initially hoped to get rid of same-day voter registration, he now says it seems like more trouble than it’s worth at this time.

“I think there’s too many problems associated with that at this time,” Silber told the House Election Law Committee Wednesday, explaining his plans to revise and resubmit the bill that would’ve included the repeal.

Speaking after the committee hearing, Silber said he decided to change plans after hearing concerns that getting rid of same-day voter registration could require the state to comply with other federal voting mandates.

New Hampshire enacted same-day voter registration in 1994 under a Republican governor and Legislature as an alternative to the so-called “Motor Voter Law” (or National Voter Registration Act of 1993). The law requires states to offer voter registration through motor vehicle agencies and public assistance offices.

Gov. Chris Sununu expressed support for repealing same-day voter registration in November, shortly after his election, but has not publicly addressed the issue in recent months.

In a fiscal note attached to Silber’s original bill eliminating same-day registration, several state agencies said complying with those other requirements could be costly.

The Division of Motor Vehicles estimated it would require an additional $1 million over the next two years to account only for new training and employees to process voter registrations.  

Silber said also became clear, after conversations with others who are familiar with the dynamics around New Hampshire voting policies, that the state’s top election officials would likely oppose the move.

“They thought this would not fly because of the opposition of the Department of State and it would create havoc with what the Department of State has done traditionally,” Silber said.

The Secretary of State’s office didn’t formally testify on Silber’s bill after he said he would remove the section addressing same-day registration. Instead, they plan to weigh in once he resubmits the bill.

The proposal to get rid of same-day registration was part of a bill that also proposes several other voting-related changes: It would make New Hampshire’s party primaries closed (so undeclared voters would no longer be able to participate) and would require schools that offer in-state tuition discounts to indicate a student’s residence status on student ID cards.

The amended bill, which will still include those other two provisions, is expected to get another hearing before the House Election Law committee in several weeks.

Still, Silber said he's still interested in returning to the debate over same-day registration in the future. 

"Certainly not in this session, but ultimately, I think same-day registration will go away," he said.

Statewide, about 83,000 people registered to vote at the polls during November’s elections, or about 8 percent of the total number of registered voters at that time.

The communities seeing the largest proportions of same-day voters last November were Durham (where Election Day registrations accounted for about 18 percent of its voter rolls), Plymouth (about 15 percent), Keene (about 13 percent) and Manchester (about 12 percent), based on data reported by the Secretary of State's office. That data does not break down same-day registrations by party affiliation.