Town Clerk: GOP Voting Bill "Overwhelmingly Complicated And Confusing"

Apr 13, 2017

The uproar over Senate Bill 3 shows no signs of abating.

The bill's lead sponsor, Republican state senator Regina Birdsell,  insists it simply ensures that each vote cast in New Hampshire is valid and that voters meet certain requirements. She says she removed elements that were especially objectionable to opponents, including involvement of local police in helping to confirm voters' addresses. 

“We are looking to make sure that anyone who casts a ballot has a stake in the community that they say they’re domiciled in,” she said on The Exchange. Birdsell denied that college students or members of the military will be adversely affected.

Under current law, anyone whose domicile is in New Hampshire is allowed to vote here. A domicile is defined as “that one place where a person, more than any other place, has established a physical presence and manifests an intent to maintain a single continuous presence for domestic, social and civil purposes.”

Among other changes, SB3 would tighten that definition to include the intention to stay in New Hampshire beyond an election.

Democratic State Senator Jeff Woodburn says the bill imposes unnecessary complications that amount to roadblocks. He’s concerned about a new registration form that includes what he considers to be confusing and intimidating legal language:

“Long forms create long lines, especially for those people that move a lot -- young people, people who don’t own their own home. And they may not have those kinds of documents, and it does harass them and make it more difficult for them. How do you measure when somebody looks over and sees a long line and doesn’t vote?  How do you measure when someone says, I can’t read these documents;  I don’t understand this legalese, and they say I’ve got to go?"

Birdsell explains it this way:

“What’s going to happen on same-day registration is someone will come in; they’re going to fill out the voter-registration form. They’re going to ask if you have your New Hampshire driver’s license or New Hampshire non-driver’s license ID. If you don’t, then they’ll ask if you have any other proof of your domicile -- a cell-phone bill, cable bill, rent check. If you don’t have it, then they’re just going to give you a form and you can still go in and vote. And they’re asking you within 10 days either return by mail the form with a copy of the proof. Or you can bring it in.”

Democrats say unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud are behind the bill. But Birdsell says even a few cases can tip an election.

“But we do have voter fraud. We have cases, and I just added two cases in 2012, of people who this bill probably could easily have caught: voting in the same election twice, providing false address, voting in the wrong location, using a false name, voted for deceased husband. So in a state where we have votes that are won by one vote or tied, we’re trying to help that."

Lorrie Pitt, town clerk in Durham, however, has major concerns.

“I'll be honest – even reading this bill myself, the text, to me, is overwhelmingly complicated and confusing. And I have been the town clerk for 13 years and the deputy for 12 years before that. So I’ve seen a lot of change s over time,” Pitt said.

 

The current system, she said, runs very smoothly.

“We do not find that there’s voter fraud, certainly not in abundance,” she said. “To me, with the amount of people who vote, if there actually are one or two cases, nine times out of ten, I believe it is accidental -- not intentional.”

In trying to assuage concerns, Birdsell points to the state's Voter ID law, which she says did not suppress turnout, despite fears that it would.

“What’s going to happen is we’re going to get through this, and they’re going to find that it’s not going to impact them, it’s not going to disenfranchise anyone," she said."No one will be turned away at the polls.”

To hear the entire Exchange discussion on SB3 and voting laws, listen here