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Senate votes to undo voter registration changes

May 30, 2019

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — New Hampshire Democrats continued their push to expand voting rights Thursday, passing bills to reverse a recent voter registration law and to allow anyone to request absentee ballots.

The state Senate on Thursday voted 14-10 along party lines to pass a bill to essentially repeal a 2017 law requiring additional documentation from voters who register within 30 days of an election.

Republicans argue the new law increases trust in elections by requiring people to prove they live where they vote, but Democrats argue it is confusing, unnecessary and intimidating. A judge allowed the law to take effect last year, but blocked penalties of a $5,000 fine and a year in jail for fraud while a court challenge is pending.

“I would suggest we let the courts do their job,” said Sen. Regina Birdsell, R-Hampstead. She argued that changing the law from year to year is far more confusing to voters than adapting to the new requirements.

“God forbid we have voters who have to give proof of domicile in the town in which they’re planning to vote,” she said.

The vote on the absentee ballot bill — 13 to 11 — was even closer, with Senate President Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, voting with Republicans against it.

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.

And starting this year, if the National Weather Service issues a winter storm, blizzard or ice storm warning for Election Day, voters worried about safe travel or who can’t vote because schools or adult care are canceled can vote absentee only on the Monday before the election. Lawmakers added that provision last year after snowstorms hit on March town meeting days two years in row.

Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, cast the bill in a historical context, citing previous efforts to extend voting rights to women.

“Why should we be doing anything to hinder a person’s right to participate in the process?” he said. “Look at the strides we’ve made ... Why not make it more available?”

Opponents argued that the current law already offers covers many situations in which someone might have trouble getting to the polls.

“The only ones I can think of that we don’t cover is that person who just doesn’t care,” said Sen. James Gray, R-Rochester.

Both bills passed the House in March, but Republican Gov. Chris Sununu opposes them and neither passed with veto-proof majorities. His spokesman said Thursday he opposes any attempt to undo election integrity reform measures he has signed into law, and that he believes the current absentee ballot process works well.

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