Sen. Bob Giuda, a Warren Republican and sponsor of SB 418, addresses lawmakers in the Senate chamber on Thursday. (Amanda Gokee | New Hampshire Bulletin)
A Republican-backed bill the Senate passed on Thursday would void ballots of voters who don’t prove domicile.
If it becomes law, Senate Bill 418 would create a new kind of ballot called an “affidavit ballot,” requiring voters to mail in a copy of the missing documentation within 10 days of an election in order for their vote to count in the final tally. Right now, to vote without an ID you must sign a legally binding document to verify your identity, a provision used by around 6,000 people in the 2016 election that this bill would eliminate.
The body passed the contentious bill in a 13-11 vote falling mostly along party lines. Sen. Ruth Ward of Stoddard was the lone Republican to join Democrats in voting against the proposal. Ward – who sits on the Senate Election Law and Municipal Affairs Committee – had voted in favor of the bill out of committee, but withdrew her support during Thursday’s session.
Sen. Bob Giuda, a Warren Republican who sponsored the bill, argued for passage on Thursday.
“The problem is right now in this state anyone in the world can come to the state, sign an affidavit that says, ‘I am planning to live here,’ or ‘I do live here but I don’t have any documentation,’ they can vote, and that vote counts and determines the outcomes of New Hampshire elections,” he said.
New Hampshire’s elections are sound and secure, the Secretary of State’s Office has affirmed repeatedly, and there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud. But a major theme of Republican legislation this session has been tightening voting procedures with the goal of ensuring election integrity.
The version of the bill the Senate passed is pared back from the original, which would have impacted same-day voter registration. The version that passed the Senate would affect only people who come to vote without an ID.
Voting rights advocates in the state have criticized the proposal, which they say represents a significant change in election law that would make it harder for people to vote.
“There are a lot of people who this could affect,” said Olivia Zink, the executive director of Open Democracy Action. Zink said people who have the right to vote in the state but lack photo ID – such as homeless people or elderly residents who no longer drive – could be disenfranchised if the proposal becomes law.
Senate Democrats have also called the proposal harmful.
“We’re taking what we believe to be a fair and free system and we’re trying to change it in ways that are harmful,” said Sen. Rebecca Perkins Kwoka, a Portsmouth Democrat. She raised concerns that the affidavit ballot system would create privacy issues and that government officials would know who a person voted for. And she said the provision could lead to a costly constitutional challenge and could be struck down for creating “an unreasonable burden on the right to vote.”
Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, a Manchester Democrat, also spoke against implementing additional voter restrictions. “What makes a democracy work? It’s participation in the process. It’s the ability of people to participate in the process,” he said.
The bill will now make its way to the House.
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