Need your birth certificate to vote? This GOP bill will require it in NH

Lynne Gagnon, Derry, N.H. deputy town clerk, left, unloads test ballots from a storage cart as Tina Guilford, Derry town clerk, prepares to load them into the ballot counting machine again while testing the machines ahead of the New Hampshire primary, at the Derry Municipal Center, Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2024. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)

By Colin Booth

May 9, 2024

Concerns are mounting around a piece of Republican legislation making its way through the New Hampshire legislature that makes drastic changes on how Granite Staters would vote. New requirements would require hopeful voters to present their birth certificate, passport or other documents proving citizenship in order to register, changes which voting rights experts are calling “the most restrictive in the country.”

House Bill 1569 seeks to eliminate the existing option for individuals to sign a sworn affidavit when registering to vote, instead requiring them to present not just physical proof of identity but U.S. citizenship — documents like a birth certificate or a passport — even if registering on election day.

Republicans in the New Hampshire House already passed the bill through their chamber on a largely party line vote; it is currently in committee in the Senate before heading for a vote in the Senate.

Senate Democratic Leader Donna Soucy said Republican Senator Jim Gray proposed a sprawling, complex 12-page amendment before the Senate Election Law Committee seemingly designed to help the bill withstand a court challenge. She said the myriad changes the amendment offered, which included allocating money for creating a temporary election hotline to verify voter documents – was not an improvement.

“I think he made what was a very bad bill potentially even worse … If the real problem is rooting out fraud then why are you inconveniencing people?” Soucy said.

Critics say this bill could disenfranchise broad swathes of New Hampshire voters and impose an incredibly high bar for registering to vote in the state.

In an Op-Ed in the Union Leader, Henry Klementowicz, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU of New Hampshire, said the legislation is aimed squarely at stripping away voting rights and would likely end up in the courts.

“Don’t have your birth certificate or passport? Under HB 1569, too bad; you can’t register to vote… Never mind too that this law is unconstitutional and would likely end up costing the state millions in legal fees if signed into law,” he wrote.

RELATED: OP-ED: Thank you, NH election officials

Before its passage, members of the New Hampshire State Senate Election Law and Municipal Affairs Committee heard overwhelming opposition to House Bill 1569, a bill that would eliminate affidavits from the voter registration process, a drastic change from existing policy.

Members of the committee heard from several voters who had voted using affidavits, including Andrew Harman, a resident of New Hampton who is legally blind and voted by affidavit recently after moving back home during the pandemic to care for his mother who was suffering from dementia.

Harman, who said he votes in every election he can, described a culmination of issues which left him without the necessary paperwork that would have been required under the new rules of HB 1569

“If House Bill 1569 had been in place, I would not have been able to vote, and I vote in every election that I can get to since I was able to do so when I turned 18. I have also lived in that town for most of my life, the moderators know me by name and on site, and yet still they would have had to turn me away,” Harman said.

Representative Bob Lynn, prime sponsor of the bill and a former State Supreme Court Justice, has had contradictory testimony over the need for the legislation, saying that while there was absolutely no evidence of voter fraud in New Hampshire, the lack of evidence did not mean fraud was not taking place.

“Do I think there’s a huge issue of voter fraud in New Hampshire? No, I don’t because I think if there was, we would know it. But the idea… that there really is no voter fraud or almost no voter fraud? I think… we really don’t know the answer to that question because voter fraud is very difficult to identify and prove,” Said Lynn.

His comments echo a growing chorus of Republicans both in New Hampshire and nationally attempting to implement greater restrictions on voting, saying growing concern over voting irregularities — driven by conservative conspiracy theories — should require a legislative response.

The most recent and high-profile case of voter fraud in New Hampshire was now-former Republican State Representative Troy Merner, who was arrested and charged with one class B felony count of Wrongful Voting in November of 2023. Merner served on as a State Representative illegally, living outside of his district while he ran for and served in office.

House Republican leadership has been credibly accused of engaging in a cover up of Merner’s actions, and an investigation by the Attorney General’s office is ongoing.

Leading New Hampshire voting rights groups like 603 Forward have staunchly opposed the bill, saying it puts multiple groups of voters at significant risk of disenfranchisement, especially working age Granite Staters and military veteran voters.

The group released an open-letter to the legislature signed by five young New Hampshire veterans expressing concerns over the impact the bill would have on the ability for especially foreign-born veterans who are American citizens — who comprise roughly 5% of American active duty personnel.

The letter says that, while perhaps well-intentioned, HB 1569 “makes our voter registration system the most restrictive in the country and risks disenfranchising a significant and honorable segment of our population: our veterans and active-duty service members, particularly those who are foreign-born American citizens.”

The letter is co-signed by Maggie Goodlander, a former Intelligence officer in the US Navy Reserves and a newly declared Democratic candidate for state’s second congressional district.

Something many lawmakers and activists have been awaiting in the discussions around this bill is the opinion of New Hampshire Secretary of State Dave Scanlan, a former Republican legislator whose office would have to implement complex changes in procedure as a result of this legislation if passed.

Asked if he planned on weighing in on the legislation at any point in the future, as he has done on other bills in the past, his office offered a clear response.

“No.”

Author

  • Colin Booth

    Based in Epsom, Colin Booth is Granite Post's political correspondent. A Granite State native and veteran political professional with a deep background in journalism, he's worked on campaigns and programs in battleground states across the country, ranging from New Hampshire, Texas, Pennsylvania and Washington D.C.

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