The Bulletin Board

Republican lawmakers push absentee ballot analysis bill to next session

By: - June 18, 2021 3:13 pm
State House dome

The House voted on several bills related to reproductive health and access to abortion. (Dave Cummings | New Hampshire Bulletin)

A proposal requiring analysis of absentee ballot requests died during legislative negotiations Thursday as lawmakers were unable to reach agreement on the measure. Republican lawmakers intend to work on the bill’s language over the summer and reintroduce it next session.

House Bill 291 would have required the Attorney General’s Office to analyze data about absentee ballot requests. Lawmakers intended the bill to serve as a safeguard against voter fraud. Reputable national investigations into vote-by-mail fraud have found no proof of the large-scale, organized threat some conservative organizations like the Heritage Foundation have claimed is occurring. A recent audit in Windham also found that no voter fraud occurred.

The measure faced opposition from Democrats in the Senate, who said proper measures are already in place and the bill would duplicate efforts that are working to ensure voter fraud does not occur.

Republicans disagreed.

“I do think this piece of legislation is needed,” said Sen. Regina Birdsell, a Hampstead Republican.

Sen. James Gray, a Rochester Republican, agreed: “If you don’t look, you’re never going to find.”

In spite of the Republican political will to pass the measure, negotiations fell apart over disagreements on the details.

“If you don’t like my language, I don’t like your language,” Gray said to House negotiators Thursday.

One point of contention was whether the data would go just to the Attorney General’s Office or if the report would also be made available to the Legislature. Gray said he would not support sending the information to legislators, which would limit the data that could be made available and slow down the process.

“I think we’re just too far apart on this in trying to come up with a resolution,” he said.

A fiscal note added at the 11th hour was another major sticking point in negotiations. The note, which some lawmakers only learned of on Thursday morning, amounted to nearly a half-million dollars in associated costs for implementing the proposal.

“I realized there’s really a lack of communication between the AG’s Office and us,” said Birdsell said, adding that the legislative intent had been lost in translation.

The fiscal note may have come from confusion over whether the bill would have triggered an investigation rather than a review of a report. The latter is what lawmakers had intended. 

Birdsell said she would work with Republican Reps. Barbara Griffin of Goffstown and Gregory Hill of Northfield over the summer to address the issues in the bill so they can reintroduce it in the next session. Griffin was part of the committee of conference negotiations on the legislation, and Hill was the bill’s prime sponsor. 

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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.