Voter registration went well in recent election, but that could change

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Attorneys for the candidates confer with City Clerk Matthew Normand, right, and the three-member Recount Board after a “glitch” was discovered in the Ward 1 ballot count during the 2015 municipal election. File photo/Carol Robidoux

MANCHESTER, NH – Despite concerns about the impact of a new, stricter voter registration law, 874 people registered to vote during this year’s city municipal elections, compared to 821 in 2015, according to City Clerk Matthew Normand.

  • 837 provided documentation during registration.
  • 28 chose to provide documentation within 10 days. Of those, 16 brought it to the City Clerk. The remaining 12 were forwarded to the state Attorney General for follow up.
  • 9 chose that the City Clerk go to them.

“It did not discourage anybody from coming out. It’s my goal to get as many people to vote as possible,” Normand said.

The new law, SB 3, currently carries no penalties for infractions. It has been stayed pending a legal challenge filed in part by the state Democratic Party, which says the bill creates unlawful burdens on the right to vote. A trial has been set in Hillsborough Superior Court for August 2018.

Senate committee passed restrictive registration requirement

However, this increase in voter registration could be impacted by another change, passed by the State Senate Elections committee on November 29, on a 3-2 a party vote. Senator Donna Soucy (D-Manchester) is on the committee. ManchesterInkLink was not successful in several attempts to reach Soucy for comment for this story.

The proposed change, an amendment to SB 372, would require residency in the state, setting a higher bar for eligibility. Present election law requires only that voters be “domiciled,” physically occupying a space in the state “more than any other place.” But, “residency” places stronger burdens of proof, such as utility bills or rental. As a consequence, new residents must register their cars in New Hampshire and get state-issued driver’s licenses.

Manchester’s many college students and people relocating here for work would be impacted by the change. Democrats and voting rights advocates said the measure would create a strong voting deterrent among college students, who often carry out-of-state licenses. Numerous out-of-state workers rent in Manchester while employed here. They may be roommates of a lease-holder, and many do not change their driver’s licenses and registrations.

Gilles Bisonnette, legal director at the New Hampshire American Civil Liberties Union, called the measure a “poll tax,” citing the additional car registration and driver’s license fees that accompany a residency declaration.

State participated in Crosscheck program, no voters removed

New Hampshire started participating in the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program this year, after lawmakers authorized it. The purpose of Crosscheck is to detect duplicate voter registrations by comparing voter rolls in participating states. The system identifies voter registrations that have identical first names, last names, and dates of birth.

City Clerk Normand described a test with a random sample of New Hampshire voters. He said it flagged 800 statewide, and 44 percent had a voting history in Manchester. Normand informed the Attorney General that he had concerns, and says he knows of no further action with it.

David Scanlon, Deputy Secretary of State, says there were 200 matches, and his office is still investigating them. He said his office plans to rerun Crosscheck after the 2018 general election. He noted that this process has helped to “clean up” the checklists.

“In looking for people who vote in both places, we have not flagged any such cases. If an individual were mistakenly purged, they can re-register at the polling place during the next election,” Scanlon said. He noted that it is not illegal to be registered here but vote elsewhere.

In a long-time practice, city and town clerks use in-state deaths to remove registrations for the dead.

“We use a secure method of electronic storage for the voter rolls, and have received reciprocal agreements from other states in Crosscheck,” Scanlon said.

The program has come under fire after several reports, including a Washington Post article, noted that the system finds a high rate of false positives. Some states have withdrawn this year, including Massachusetts.

It was started in Kansas by Chris Kobach, the Kansas Secretary of State. Kobach chairs the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, of which New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner is a member. The commission met at Saint Anselm College in September.

Below is testimony submitted by the ACLU in Feb. of 2017

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