N.H. House strips all exemptions to voter ID law

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Mar. 14—CONCORD — By a narrow margin, the House of Representatives embraced eliminating all exemptions to the state's voter ID law, a move critics charged would strip the voting rights of thousands of citizens who show up at the polls without a driver's license or proof of citizenship.

Thursday's 189-185 unrecorded vote on the bill (HB 1569) came one day after Gov. Chris Sununu said he saw no need to change New Hampshire's voter verification standards.

"I think our system works very well right now," Sununu told reporters. A short time later he added, "I'm not looking to make any changes."

House Election Laws Committee Chairman Ross Berry said voters overwhelmingly favor ID requirements, and it's far too easy for residents to claim eligibility to vote. He said they rarely get caught if they aren't eligible.

Voters without documentation can sign an affidavit under penalty of perjury that they are a U.S. citizen, of legal age and reside in the voting district where they want to cast a ballot.

"An affidavit system is ridiculous on face value," Berry said. "It is little more than a signature on a piece of paper where someone pinky-promises they are telling the truth."

Henry Klementowicz, senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire, said the bill was a deliberate attempt to deny voting rights to the state's most vulnerable — seniors who often come to the polls without an ID or citizens new to this country.

"New Hampshire politicians are trying to make it harder for people to vote, which is a clear attack on one of our most fundamental of rights. Make no mistake: This bill would disenfranchise eligible voters with no evidence or data to back up any reason as to why," Klementowicz said.

Rep. Robert Wherry, R-Hudson, said adults have to show ID for many things in life, ranging from buying alcohol or boarding a plane to renting a hotel room, buying a firearm or picking up a package at the post office.

"All these common life activities require some proof of identity to enter — who are you?" Wherry said.

Similar law struck down

But Rep. Connie Lane, D-Concord, said the change would cause "chaos" at the polls this fall and lead to expensive litigation. In 2020 a federal court struck down a similar law in Kansas.

Supporters of the bill note that it allows a local election supervisor at the polling place to let someone they know cast a ballot without an ID and gives the denied voter the right to appeal that decision to a superior court judge.

Critics of the measure say the appeal process was both unworkable and an illegal restriction on someone's constitutional rights.

Rep. Heath Howard, D-Strafford, said those without a driver's license would have to present either a birth certificate, a passport that costs more than $100 or naturalization papers.

In 2022, up to 3,000 voters cast ballots by signing affidavits. The number of affected voters would be much higher this fall, in a presidential election year, he said.

In 2022, Sununu signed a law pushed through by the GOP-led Legislature that disqualifies someone who signs that affidavit and votes but fails to then produce proof of eligibility within seven days of the election.

The process was used statewide at the first-in-the-nation presidential primary in January.

"The affidavit ballot law has seemed to have worked pretty darn well," Sununu said.

Election law reformers sued the state over that measure, arguing it was an unconstitutional restriction on the right to vote.

In November, Superior Court Judge Charles Temple dismissed two lawsuits, ruling those who brought the case had no standing to allege harm because they were all registered voters.

A year ago, the closely divided House without debate voted to table an identical bill to erase voter ID exceptions written by the same sponsor, state Rep. Robert Lynn, R-Windham, who is a retired chief justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

House GOP leaders decided to press ahead on Thursday, when they began the day with 190 in attendance, while Democrats had only 176 of their members present, and one independent, Rep. Shaun Filiault of Keene, who supported their position.


Opponents of the bill include the Campaign for Voting Rights, Open Democracy New Hampshire, 603 Forward and 37 local election officials from large cities and small towns who signed a statement.

During the bill's public hearing last month, 16 signed up online for the bill, and 466 opposed it.

The measure now heads to the state Senate.