The Bulletin Board

Bills on voting rights for incarcerated people, electronic poll books signed into law

By: - July 2, 2021 2:04 pm
A woman walks outside toward a polling place

The bill would authorize the secretary of state to create an election information portal. (Getty Images)

Two voting rights measures will become law after they were signed by Gov. Chris Sununu on Thursday.

House Bill 555 ensures that some people who are incarcerated will be able to vote by absentee ballot.

While people serving a sentence for a felony are not allowed to vote, those who are serving because of a misdemeanor or are awaiting trial can. But the way the absentee ballot was written often prevented them from doing so since it forced an incarcerated person to attest that they were outside of their county of domicile.

This created a problem for those who were serving time in the same county as their permanent address.

The law adds a line to the absentee ballot application allowing an applicant to check the option that applies to them. The new line reads: “I am confined in a penal institution for a misdemeanor or while awaiting trial.”

The new law will go into effect on Aug. 30.

The second piece of voting rights legislation signed into law allows cities and towns to keep electronic poll books. These poll books are how election officials maintain and review voter registration information for an election.  

Senate Bill 46 tasks the secretary of state with coming up with a set of instructions and best-use practices for electronic poll books in state elections “based on reports from the city and town clerks, evaluation vendors, and electronic poll book system providers.”

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 36 states used e-poll books in at least one jurisdiction in the 2018 elections. About 26 percent of jurisdictions in the nation reported using e-poll books, a nearly 50 percent increase in usage from just two years prior. NPR has reported that the use of electronic poll books can speed up voting lines.

Instead of having to look through a paper record with hundreds or thousands of names of voters registered in a certain precinct, a poll worker can look up a voter’s information quickly in an electronic poll book.  

But the books have also raised concerns among some election cybersecurity experts about security and vulnerability in the face of potential cyberattacks.  

The law will go into effect on Aug. 31.

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Amanda Gokee
Amanda Gokee

Amanda Gokee reported on energy and environment for New Hampshire Bulletin. She also previously reported on these issues at VTDigger. Amanda grew up in Vermont and is a graduate of Harvard University. She received her master’s degree in liberal studies, with a concentration in creative writing, from Dartmouth College. Her work has also appeared in the LA Review of Books and the Valley News.