Republicans Looking to Tighten N.H. Election Laws

Nov 29, 2016

 

Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR

Though there is no evidence behind President-elect Donald Trump’s recent claim of “serious’’ voter fraud in New Hampshire, the state could see a handful of election law changes now that Republicans are in charge at the State House.

Gov.-elect Chris Sununu wants to eliminate Election Day registration, while fellow Republicans in the legislature have long sought a 10- or 30-day residency requirement. They say the changes would give voters more confidence in New Hampshire’s election systems.

 

‘‘It’s simply about doing things the right way,’’ Sununu recently told WMUR-TV of his calls to eliminate same-day registration. Sununu was not immediately available for a comment to The Associated Press.

The offices of both the Attorney General and Secretary of State say there aren’t enough complaints to back up any assertions of wide-scale voter fraud. Trump tweeted Sunday that the media is ignoring ‘‘serious fraud’’ in New Hampshire, Virginia and California, without providing evidence for his claims.

Assistant Attorney General Brian Buonamano, who handles the state’s election law complaints, said he’s looking into fewer than five complaints concerning voter fraud. He couldn’t provide an exact number of how many complaints he’s received. The Attorney General’s office does have a backlog of election law complaints due to low staffing, but most are not related to voter fraud. Since 2012, the office has prosecuted two criminal and one civil voter fraud cases, Buonamano said.

‘‘As an empirical matter, we don’t have the kinds of reports of voter fraud that appear to be discussed by President-elect Trump,’’ Buonamano said.

But many state Republicans say the problem lies in the law itself, which allows people to vote if New Hampshire is their ‘‘domicile,’’ rather than their ‘‘residence.’’ That means college students or campaign workers can legally vote in New Hampshire, even if they hold a driver’s license from another state.

‘‘We want to make sure that the individuals of the state, when they cast a vote, can feel confident that it’s not being diluted or abused by folks who aren’t either real residents, or whatever the case may be,’’ Sununu said.

The Legislature has passed residency requirements in recent sessions, only to have them vetoed by outgoing Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan. With Sununu in charge, one is likely to be signed into law. Under such a law, college students would likely still be able to vote in New Hampshire if they could prove residency, perhaps by obtaining a driver’s license. Secretary of State Bill Gardner, who has expressed his own concerns about ‘‘drive-by voting,’’ supports such a law.

But eliminating same-day registration may be more complicated. New Hampshire passed the law in 1994, allowing the state to get out of some requirements of the National Voter Registration Act. The law, also known as the Motor Voter Act, says states must allow for registration at the Department of Motor Vehicles and other public places. By having same-day registration, New Hampshire avoids those requirements. Election Day registration also gets New Hampshire out of parts of the Help America Vote Act of 2002.

Although Gardner supports some election law changes, he has argued eliminating same-day registration would be costly and create new problems.

‘‘There are going to be even more problems with the consequence of not having it,’’ he said.