Among the more than 1,000 bills headed to the New Hampshire legislature for consideration this January, one bill would give public employees election days off of work, and another would require undeclared voters to choose a political party months before voting in a primary.
With voting rights hovering at the forefront of national conversations following the 2020 presidential election, bills to ease, restrict or otherwise alter the voting process have been in the spotlight of state legislatures across the country. This year, New Hampshire lawmakers enacted a handful of voting-related legislation, including clarifying absentee ballot requirements for people in jail as well as centralizing the process for reporting voter address changes.
The Granite State’s next legislative session is just weeks away. Here is a look at eight election laws headed to the State House concerning voter fraud, absentee voting, age requirements and more.
HB 1153 — Prohibits a municipal clerk from mailing an absentee ballot to any person until that person has submitted an absentee ballot application and the clerk has approved their application.
“I think it was an oversight that nobody really thought about,” Bill sponsor Rep. Peter Torosian, an Atkinson Republican, said. “Having said that, it doesn’t affect anybody’s ability to go down the same day and register the same day and vote the same day. We are still one of the easier states to vote in.”
Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan said currently, municipal clerks do not send absentee ballots to any person who has not submitted an application.
HB 1157 — Prohibits electronic ballot counting devices from being connected or having access to the internet. This bill is also sponsored by Rep. Torosian.
Currently, all New Hampshire counting devices are standalone units that do not have internet capability, Scanlan said. The devices have had their modem capability removed, and only power cords can be connected to them.
Scanlan said the state Ballot Law Commission is looking at replacing the state’s devices with newer models. These models do have internet capability, but the Commission is considering having the new devices similarly altered to disable any wireless connection.
HB 1166 — Requires any undeclared voter who wishes to vote in a primary election to declare party affiliation at least 120 days before the primary. The legislation also mandates that a candidate be a member of the party for which they seek a nomination for at least six months before a primary. This bill is sponsored by Rep. David Love, a Derry Republican.
HB 1203 — Repeals residency and registration changes that were made in two previous bills that were passed in 2017. One bill required all voters living in the state to follow residency laws, such as the requirement to register a car in New Hampshire. The other bill added stricter requirements for voters who register within 30 days of an election but do not present a photo ID or other documentation. For those voters, the law required them to fill out a new set of forms and present the documentation to their local elected officials.
Many of the changes in the 2017 laws are not enforceable because they have already been ruled unconstitutional by the New Hampshire Supreme Court, but bill sponsor Rep. Timothy Horrigan, a Durham Democrat, said he is aiming to officially repeal the laws.
“I’m concerned specifically because I live in Durham, which is a college town, so we have a large number of people who moved here relatively recently who may still have other residency,” Horrigan said.
Horrigan said the law discourages young people from voting, something he said New Hampshire should be encouraging instead.
“Aside from just simply fairness that you should be able to vote where you live, it’s a good lifelong habit to get into,” he said.
This bill would additionally remove the current requirement that the Secretary of State conduct post-election voter registration inquiries, which are letters sent to any voter that registered or obtained a ballot by using an affidavit.
Deputy Secretary of State Scanlan said the current statute requires his office to send the letters and to receive a response by the voter verifying their identities and where they voted.
HB 1213 — Establishes the State Primary Election Day as a legal holiday, and provides that any state office, city, town, school district, and community college or university supported by the state shall not be open for any state holidays. Currently, General Election Day is a holiday, but public schools and public employees do not get the day off.
“I think that people should have the day off to vote, not only to make voting more accessible to working people, but for so many more reasons. For example, they can take their kids and teach them about participating in democracy,” bill sponsor Rep. Ellen Read said. “We have all these days to celebrate the people who fought and died for our democracy, but we don’t have one day where we actually do the democracy, off.”
Read, a Newmarket Democrat, said people should have Primary Election Day off of work as well as General Election Day because she believes the days are equally important. She said a lot of voter apathy during the general election is fueled by the common complaint that “both sides are equally terrible,” and the primaries are the voters’ chance to select who they want to see on the ballot.
This bill also requires all private employers to allow employees up to 3 hours away from work to vote “when practicable.”
HB 1442 — Requires that election and voter information be available in multiple languages. This bill is sponsored by Rep. Manny Espitia, a Nashua Democrat.
CACR 15 — This constitutional amendment allows 17 year-olds to vote in primary elections, as long as they turn 18 by the time of the general election.
Currently, 17 states allow 17-year-olds turning 18 by the time of the general election to vote in that year’s congressional primaries, while 19 states allow 17-year-olds to vote in the presidential primaries or caucuses of both major parties. Maine and Vermont belong to both totals, while Rhode Island and Massachusetts do not.
In four additional states, 17-year-olds can participate only in Democratic presidential primaries or caucuses.
This amendment is sponsored by Rep. Tony Labranche, an Amherst Democrat.
CACR 16 — This constitutional amendment requires the Attorney General to prosecute “any case of election fraud where there is clear and convincing evidence of such.” This amendment is sponsored by Rep. Max Abramson, a Seabrook Libertarian.
Scanlan said the Attorney General’s Office is currently responsible for prosecuting individuals that have engaged in voter fraud, but this amendment would cement that responsibility in the constitution.
These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative as part of our race and equity project. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.