Bills would make it easier for older residents to vote

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — While much of the focus has been on young voters, New Hampshire lawmakers also are considering changes to make it easier for older residents to cast their ballots.

The House Election Law Committee will hold public hearings Tuesday on two bills related to older voters. One would allow unrelated caregivers to deliver absentee ballots on behalf of voters who live in nursing homes or assisted living facilities. The other would allow anyone age 60 or older to vote up to five weeks before an election.

Rep. Richard Komi, a Democrat from Manchester, is the sponsor of the second bill, which he said is partly inspired by his 75-year-old mother. He wants to help elderly residents who are in poor health or who worry about inclement weather to vote when it is most convenient for them.

“We seem to be ignoring the older population when it comes to voting,” Komi said on Monday. “The focus has been shifted from older people to young people.”

This year’s Legislature skews slightly younger than in past years, where the average age in the House is 61. Political party leaders estimate that 44 of the 400 House members are under 40, including some Democrats who were motivated to run by recent changes in election law that they felt unfairly targeted young voters. One new law, requiring voters to provide more documentation if they register within 30 days of an election, remains tied up in court. The other, which ends the distinction between full-fledged residents and those claiming the state as their domicile for voting, takes effect July 1.

Previously, college students and others who consider the state their domicile could vote without being subject to residency requirements, such as getting a New Hampshire driver’s license or registering their cars. Republicans who backed the bill to align the definitions of domicile and residency argued that such students should be subject to the same requirements as everyone else, but opponents said it amounted to a poll tax that would discourage voting.

Both passed under Republican-led Legislatures, but Democrats won majorities in both the House and Senate in November, and are backing bills to essentially repeal both changes.

Komi said lawmakers should pay just as much attention to older voters.

“Let us not shift focus from our seniors,” he said. “We have an aging population. We should always remember to include them.”

According to a major Census survey on voting behavior, about 73 percent of U.S. citizens age 65 and older in New Hampshire voted in 2016, compared to about 59 percent of those ages 34 and under. In the November midterm election, 28 percent of voters in New Hampshire were 65 and older, 42 percent were between the ages of 45 and 64, and 31 percent were under 45, according to AP VoteCast, a nationwide survey conducted for The Associated Press by NORC at the University of Chicago.

Komi’s bill would leave it up to the secretary of state’s office to devise a system for early voting for older residents. Under current law, absentee ballots are available only to certain voters, including those with physical disabilities and those who are out of town on Election Day. The Legislature is considering a constitutional amendment to make such ballots available to any registered voter.

Deputy House Speaker Karen Ebel, D-New London, sponsor of the nursing home bill, isn’t seeking that kind of broad expansion. Instead, she called her bill “a moderate attempt at helping people who have challenges either because of age or disability to have better opportunity to get ballots.” Her mother lives in a nursing home, and administrators there and others she spoke to said it often would be easier for them to deliver ballots in person, particularly if time was running out to mail them.

The bill also would allow someone assisting a blind voter or voter with a disability to deliver ballots. In both scenarios, those delivering ballots would sign affidavits attesting to their identities, Ebel said.


Associated Press Writer Hannah Fingerhut in Washington contributed to this report.