Democrats challenging voter registration law denied database

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Democrats challenging a voter registration law in New Hampshire won’t be able to use the state’s voter database to argue the law unfairly burdens those who are more likely to support their party, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

The court ruled on a dispute that arose as part of lawsuit brought by the New Hampshire Democratic Party and the League of Women Voters over a 2017 law requiring additional documentation from voters who register within 30 days of an election. Supporters argue it will increase trust in elections by requiring people to prove they live where they vote, but opponents argue it is confusing, unnecessary and intimidating.

A judge allowed the law to take effect in September 2017 but blocked penalties of a $5,000 fine and a year in jail for fraud and said further hearings are necessary. In the meantime, the plaintiffs sought access to a database that includes information about whether voters registered within 30 days of an election or on Election Day and whether they provided proof of domicile.

A lower court agreed with the request, finding that information about the identities and voting patterns of same-day registrants could shed light on the plaintiff’s claims that the new law makes same-day registration more difficult, and that same-day registrants are more likely to support Democrats.

But the Supreme Court disagreed, citing the Legislature’s 2018 decision to specifically outlaw the sharing of the database in such situations by amending a different state law.

“The 2018 amendment to the statute conclusively demonstrates that the legislature disagreed with the trial court’s construction and effectively overruled that decision,” justices wrote in a unanimous decision.

A more recent law change ending the state’s distinction between domicile and residency doesn’t take effect until July. For now, out-of-state college students and others who consider the state their domicile can vote without being subject to residency requirements, such as getting a New Hampshire driver’s license or registering their cars.

Both new laws were passed when Republicans controlled the Statehouse. Democrats, who won control of both the House and Senate in November, are backing bills this session that would essentially reverse both measures.