The Bulletin Board

Sponsor of same-day registration overhaul bill submits amendment to pare back reach

By: - January 20, 2022 5:42 pm
New Hampshire State House

The House is expected to reject bills that place limitations on the education freedom account program. (Dana Wormald | New Hampshire Bulletin)

The lead backer of a sweeping bill to overhaul New Hampshire’s same-day registration process made a late change Thursday, paring back its scope. 

Senate Bill 418 would require the secretary of state and town election officials to invalidate the ballot of any voter who did not have the proper documentation to register to vote on Election Day and did not produce it within 10 days. Under the bill, voters who did not have information confirming their citizenship, age, and residency would need to fill out a specially marked “affidavit ballot” and  mail copies of those documents to the Secretary of State’s Office within 10 days of voting. 

The bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Bob Giuda, has drawn heavy criticism from Democrats and voting rights advocates, who argue it will disenfranchise voters who aren’t able to assemble their documents in time and add to the workload of public officials.

But in an amendment presented Thursday, Giuda made a change that would narrow the bill’s requirements to affect only people who did not have the documents with them on Election Day. An earlier version of the bill had required every same-day registrant to fill out the affidavit ballots and return an envelope to the Secretary of State’s Office – whether they had their documents or not.

The amendment would significantly reduce the number of people the bill would affect; opponents had warned that the prior version could require around 100,000 same-day election registrants to go through the process. 

But at a hearing on the bill Thursday, the League of Women Voters of New Hampshire and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire said the revised bill could still void the ballots of valid voters – and argued that it was unconstitutional.

Giuda and other supporters have said the bill is necessary to ensure that people who vote erroneously do not get their ballot counted in the final tally of the election. And they’ve contended that voters carry the burden to prove that they are eligible. 

At Thursday’s hearing, Secretary of State Dave Scanlan said he didn’t think the law would violate the state or federal constitutions, but he suggested that the Legislature seek an advisory opinion from the state Supreme Court over whether it is constitutional. The Legislature took that approach with a different bill tightening voting access in 2018; the Supreme Court ultimately found that bill, House Bill 1264, constitutional. 

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Ethan DeWitt
Ethan DeWitt

Ethan DeWitt is the New Hampshire Bulletin’s education reporter. Previously, he worked as the New Hampshire State House reporter for the Concord Monitor, covering the state, the Legislature, and the New Hampshire presidential primary. A Westmoreland native, Ethan started his career as the politics and health care reporter at the Keene Sentinel.