Senate passes bill adding documentation to vote by absentee ballot

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The state Senate met Thursday in a remote session that includes a list of bills they are voting on.

CONCORD, NH – The state Senate voted in favor of a bill the chairman of the Election Law and Municipal Affairs Committee says will protect the integrity of the absentee ballot process, but others say creates unnecessary barriers for some voters.

State Sen. Jim Gray, R-Rochester, called Senate Bill 54 important because it will protect the security of New Hampshire elections by giving city and town clerks the ability to confirm the identity of all absentee voters.

“The language in the bill simply asks for identification which is easily obtained to be submitted with the application,” Gray said.

Sen. Donna Soucy, D-Manchester was among several Democrats who spoke against the bill. Soucy said it would cause more upfront work for clerks to collect the confidential personal data and she was concerned about securing the information and where it would be stored.

Sen. David Watters, D-Dover, said he was not insinuating any ill motives to the bill’s sponsors, but reminded his colleagues that in the past similar legislation has been used to suppress voting by various groups such as during Reconstruction. He said there is no absentee ballot problem to be solved in New Hampshire.

The last election with 73 percent voter turnout despite the pandemic showed absentee balloting was a success, Watters said.

“We should be proud of what New Hampshire did because it made it convenient for people to vote by absentee ballot,” Watters said.

The bill passed 14 to 10 and is now headed for the House of Representatives.

In other action taken Thursday, the Senate voted to table Sen. Lou D’Allesandro’s Property Tax Relief Act of 2021 to be discussed as a part of the budget process. SB 118 appropriates $40 million to the state treasurer to provide municipal aid grants to New Hampshire’s cities and towns, at least 60 percent of which must be used for local property tax reductions.

“I thank my colleagues for their support and look forward to bringing this plan forward as a part of the budget process,” D’Allesandro said in a news release after the vote.

The Senate voted unanimously in favor of SB157, to seek secure funding for child behavioral health services.

Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, one of the bill’s sponsors, said after the vote: “Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the negative impact it is having on adolescents’ mental health, we need to ensure that funding appropriated in the prior budget which could not be utilized due to the pandemic is still available to implement SB-14 which is intended to assist children suffering with mental health issues.”

The Senate also unanimously passed legislation, SB152, that supports financing for affordable housing for individuals and families by accessing additional federal funding and reforming the Homeless Housing and Access program and SB 98, Sen. Becky Whitley’s, D-Hopkinton, bill to establish a state-supported SNAP health incentive program.

“By implementing SNAP health incentive programs we are putting money back into the local economy, supporting health benefits for our most vulnerable populations, and creating additional opportunities for our local farmers. I thank my colleagues for their bipartisan support and look forward to bringing this bill before the House,” Whitley said in a statement.

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