The Bulletin Board

Lawmakers send bill moving state primary, other election law measures to governor’s desk

By: - June 24, 2021 3:12 pm
A sign saying vote here in a red arrow that points toward a line of people in a building

Election officials take an oath that they will perform their duties properly when they are sworn into office. (Drew Angerer | Getty Images)

Both the New Hampshire House and Senate met Thursday to vote on legislation that went through committees of conference last week. House Bill 98, which moves the state primary from September to August, and Senate Bill 31, which addresses absentee ballots, are now headed to the governor’s desk. 

House Bill 98: State primary

The Senate passed the committee of conference report on House Bill 98 in a voice vote on Thursday. In the House, a roll call vote was requested. It passed by a narrow margin, 192-183.  

The measure would move the state primary from the second Tuesday in September to the first Tuesday in August.

Rep. Paul Bergeron, a Nashua Democrat, spoke against the earlier date, citing hot weather and vacations in August. 

“It would be a struggle to get people to turn out to vote,” Bergeron said. 

Proponents of an earlier primary say it would level the playing field between incumbents and new candidates, giving newcomers more time to raise funds and get established in the general election.

New Hampshire’s state primary is the third latest in the nation, which has led to a time crunch for receiving ballots from overseas. Next year, the state primary is set to be moved up by one week in order to address this issue and assure compliance with federal law.  

“This was truly a bipartisan effort to reach a good compromise,” said Sen. Donna Soucy, a Manchester Democrat. She encouraged all senators to support the bill, which they did in a voice vote. 

Gov. Chris Sununu has spoken out against an earlier state primary, saying that he sees no benefit to moving the date and is likely to veto the measure when it reaches his desk.

Senate Bill 31: Absentee ballots

The House approved the committee of conference report on a measure modifying how new voters are added to a checklist. Instead of providing notice by mail to the city where the voter was last registered, the measure moves that communication online. For New Hampshire residents who move to a new town in the same state, their information would be entered into a statewide centralized voter registration database.   

Senate Bill 31 also simplifies absentee ballot affidavit envelopes, a measure with bipartisan support. It adds a line so that those in penal institutions who are eligible to vote can do so.

Previously the bill contained a provision that would have made communicable diseases, such as COVID-19, qualifying conditions for absentee voting. That was taken out of the bill during a House session, following some debate and pushback from Democrats. Debate in the House on Thursday focused on the deletion of this language. 

Bergeron requested a division vote and then spoke against the bill.

“Senate Bill 31 deletes language stating that a disability includes medical conditions that pose a risk of infection to others, or infection from others carries a health risk,” he said.

He said withholding this information from voters with health concerns would not be in their best interest.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, voting by absentee ballot increased dramatically. Passing the committee of conference report was a win for Republicans, limiting those who can qualify for absentee voting by narrowing the definition of disability.

Rep. Joe Sweeney, a Salem Republican, spoke in favor of the measure that he said would “ensure election integrity in our state.”

Sweeney said the committee of conference was “simply a housekeeping measure to make sure the final language would work with state law.”

The Senate approved the measure without any debate on a voice vote. It will now be sent to the governor’s desk. 

The House also passed the committee of conference report on House Bill 326, requiring town and city clerks to make electronic lists of those who have applied for absentee ballots. These lists would be made available to candidates upon request. 

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Amanda Gokee
Amanda Gokee

Amanda Gokee is the New Hampshire Bulletin’s energy and environment reporter. She 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.

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