Uphold governor's voter ID veto
The New Hampshire Legislature soon will consider the governor's veto of Senate Bill 129, the so-called "Voter ID bill." The bill would require that voters produce a federal or state-issued photo ID in order to receive a ballot.If the voter does not have valid identification, the voter would receive a "provisional ballot," which would only be counted if he or she later appeared before the city or town clerk and presented a valid photo ID.Requiring that voters prove their identities might seem to be a responsible measure. SB 129, however, creates a new layer of balloting without providing the provisions that would ensure uniform administration of the law; without providing adequate safeguards for voter privacy; and without providing the controls necessary to protect the integrity of our elections.Here are this election official's concerns:A voter with no photo ID may obtain a provisional ballot, but the law would not allow that voter to proceed past the guardrail to use the voting booths. Under SB 129, a voter is only "allowed to enter the space enclosed by the guardrail" if he or she is qualified to vote and has presented a valid ID. Therefore, the voter will need to fill out the provisional ballot somewhere in the public area of the polls without any privacy. • There are no controls in SB 129 that would prevent a voter from leaving the polling place with a provisional ballot, nor does SB 129 specify that the voter must hand over the completed provisional ballot during polling hours.Can the ballot be delivered to the city clerk during the three-day period before provisional ballots are counted? Perhaps some ballots won't be turned in at all. If the clerk sends 5,000 official ballots to the polling site, the clerk expects to get all 5,000 ballots back. SB 129 would undermine that accountability. • There are no controls over who may "assist" this voter in completing a provisional ballot in the public area of the polling place. • There are no provisions in SB 129 describing how provisional ballots are to be secured within the polling place. The bill only states that the moderator "shall retain possession of the provisional ballots" and later deliver them to the clerk. • There are no provisions in SB 129 that authorize the clerk to unseal the box containing provisional ballots or that describe who must be present when the box is opened. Yet the bill states the clerk must forward only those ballots "for which verification of identity has been provided" to the moderator for counting.Why weren't these concerns addressed by the Legislature?Because the current version of SB 129 never had a public hearing. In SB 129's original form, if a voter did not have an ID, an election official would photograph the individual, then let him proceed to cast a ballot.That is the bill that was approved by the Senate; that is the bill that was heard in the House. SB 129 was amended in committee and brought to the House floor without state or local election officials having an opportunity to appear before the committee to testify during a public hearing.Requiring that voters produce photo identification at the polls before receiving a ballot sounds reasonable on the surface, but there is a lot of foolishness in SB 129: • The Connecticut student attending the University of New Hampshire could produce his state-issued college ID and receive a ballot, but a Nashua resident, without a driver's license, could not use his Rivier College ID to obtain a ballot. • Municipal identification cards - of any kind, including voter registration cards - are not an acceptable form of voter ID. • Terms are not defined. If the identification must "substantially conform" to the name in the individual's voter registration record, must we deny ballots to new brides who changed their last names for voter registration, but who have not yet received new driver licenses? Under SB 129, it appears that we would. • Voters "personally known" to election officials must be denied ballots if they do not have federal or state-issued photo identification. • The state constitution directs that the moderator shall sort and count votes "in the presence of the selectmen." SB 129, however, ignores the constitution and instead provides that: "The duties of the moderator ... may be fulfilled by another election official designated by the moderator" who may be from another ward.The Legislature needs to craft voter ID language that will provide uniform guidelines for processing provisional ballots; that will protect voter privacy; that will guard the integrity of our elections, and that will enable election officials to use some common-sense discretion to ensure that qualified voters are able to exercise their right to cast a ballot.SB 129 is poorly written, and the governor's veto should be sustained.Paul R. Bergeron is the city clerk of Nashua.