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Senate passes voter ID law, but Republicans say they may pare it back

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Senate passes voter ID law, but Republicans say they may pare it back

May 17, 2024 | 1:36 pm ET
By Ethan DeWitt
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Senate passes voter ID law, but Republicans say they may pare it back
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The bill has not left the Senate yet; it was referred to the Senate Finance Committee, and will come back to the Senate floor for a final vote before heading back to the House. (Kate Brindley | New Hampshire Bulletin)

The Senate passed a bill Thursday that would require that New Hampshire voters produce evidence they are U.S. citizens in order to register to vote, and tighten voter identification requirements on Election Day. 

In a party-line, 13-10 vote, the chamber passed House Bill 1569, which Republicans said would better ensure that voters are eligible to vote before casting ballots, and which Democrats warned would lead to disenfranchisement of people who can’t quickly access those documents. 

The bill has not left the Senate yet; it was referred to the Senate Finance Committee, and will come back to the Senate floor for a final vote before heading back to the House. Gov. Chris Sununu indicated he doesn’t support the bill, but has stopped short of committing to vetoing it.

“I’m really not looking to make any significant changes,” Sununu said Wednesday in response to a question about the bill. “So any bill that got to my desk would have to be fulfilling a clear need of the system. Overall our election system in New Hampshire works really, really well.”

The bill requires voters to produce a birth certificate, passport, or naturalization papers to demonstrate that they are a U.S. citizen before being allowed to register to vote. And it eliminates voters’ current ability to cast a ballot without having identifying documents on Election Day if they fill out a legally binding affidavit swearing to their identity. 

While Senate Republicans voted their approval Thursday, they also passed an amendment that would pare back the House version of the bill. And they indicated they may seek further changes. 

The House version had required that voters present citizenship documents every time they moved to a new polling area within the state and re-registered. The Senate-amended bill requires that voters produce the documents only the first time they register to vote in the state. 

The Senate version also allows residents who don’t have immediate access to their citizenship documents to sign a “citizenship affidavit” when registering to vote that attests that they are a U.S. citizen and that provides “sufficient information so that citizenship can be confirmed.” The Senate’s amendment also allows town election officials to contact the Secretary of State’s Office to verify that information using state databases, if possible.

The amendment also directs the Secretary of State’s Office to coordinate with other state agencies such as the Attorney General’s Office, the Division of Motor Vehicles, and “any other agencies” to provide real-time verification of voter data on Election Day. Republican lawmakers argued the measure could help state officials look up a voter’s driver’s license if they did not have it with them on Election Day, but Democrats said there are no assurances that it would work.

In both versions of the bill, a local election official must issue a final decision over whether a voter has met the requirements to register to vote, and the voter can contest that decision in superior court. But while the House version gives voters only until the close of polls on Election Day to obtain a superior court reversal, the Senate version gives them several more days – up until the deadline for candidates to request recounts – to get the superior court to restore their eligibility.

Democrats said those changes were not enough.

“Our voters this fall deserve to walk into the voting booth without confusion,” said Sen. Donna Soucy, a Manchester Democrat and the Senate Democratic leader, in a statement. “These bills create a major change and will lead to disenfranchisement of same-day registrants.”

Sen. James Gray, a Rochester Republican and chairman of both the House Election Law Committee and House Finance Committee, indicated that the Finance Committee would seek to make further compromises to address concerns about disenfranchisement.

“We’ll pass the bill as it is, and then we’ll take it to Finance, and then later in this session, we will take up an easier-to-vote section that would help,” he said.