The Bulletin Board

For the People Act stalls in Washington, but what does that mean for state legislation?

By: - June 23, 2021 1:41 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)

New Hampshire lawmakers responded to federal election reform with a proposal of their own that critics say would create a two-tier election system separating local and federal elections. But now that the For the People Act has stalled in Washington, what happens to pending legislation in New Hampshire?

Senate Bill 89 contains several election law reform measures, in addition to an amendment brought forward by Rep. Barbara Griffin, a Goffstown Republican, responding to the For the People Act.

It has passed both the House and Senate, and would become law if Gov. Chris Sununu signs it.

“There may be no practical effect of the legislation if the Washington bill does not pass, but at this time in the legislative cycle, the course has been set,” Griffin said in an interview.

The deadline that will determine what happens at the state level may come before a final federal decision. Once a bill hits the governor’s desk, he has five days to act on it. The bill may also be held in the Secretary of State’s Office before reaching the governor.

Griffin and other proponents of the measure are billing it as a matter of local control over elections. 

“I am hopeful that the bill remains stalled in Washington so that the legislation that has been passed by the House and Senate never needs to be looked to in how to make an analysis going forward,” she said.

But a question has been raised about whether the language in the New Hampshire bill would apply only to the For the People Act or if it could be interpreted more broadly to apply to all federal election law. 

“The lay person’s reading of the bill says regardless of what happens with S.1 (the For the People Act), all New Hampshire elections will only be subject to state law,” said Lucas Meyer, chairman of 603 Forward.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Act is another piece of federal election reform legislation that Democrats may now turn their attention to this session.  

Griffin declined to comment on whether the proposal was intended only to respond to the For the People Act or to all federal election reform.  

Notwithstanding the adoption by the United States Congress of S.1, also known as the ‘For the People Act of 2021,’” the bill reads, “all procedures and requirements relating to elections conducted pursuant to the New Hampshire Constitution and as prescribed by New Hampshire law shall remain in full force.”

Both of New Hampshire’s U.S. senators voted in favor of the federal election reform, in a 50-50 vote that fell along party lines.

“I am deeply disappointed that Senator Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans blocked this important bill,” said Sen. Maggie Hassan in a written statement issued after Tuesday’s vote.

Hassan said the measure would stop billionaires from buying elections and strengthen democracy.

New Hampshire proponents of the For the People Act say the bill would still have a chance if filibuster reform is enacted. Senate Republicans used a filibuster on Tuesday to block debate on the bill.

“The vote this week was really just the starting point,” said Meyer, citing the Affordable Care Act as another example of legislation that died “a thousand deaths” before getting signed into law. 

“For such an important, historic piece of legislation we expect there to be a more prolonged process than just one vote,” he said. “I’m optimistic as hell.”

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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.