By Nancy West, InDepthNH.org
MANCHESTER – Judge Kenneth Brown issued a preliminary injunction Monday against a new law that requires people registering to vote fill out new forms to prove they live where they intend to cast their ballot.
The lawsuit, which was filed by the League of Women Voters of New Hampshire against Secretary of State William Gardner, argues the law, which is commonly called SB3, is overly complicated, burdensome and targets certain groups of people such as college students.
The state argued the law is needed to cut down on voter fraud and people voting in New Hampshire who live in other states.
With only 15 days until the midterm elections, Brown wrote that the League, which had filed suit with the New Hampshire Democratic party, had demonstrated they would likely succeed on the merits claiming that SB3 unconstitutionally burdens the right to vote.
“Where the law threatens to disenfranchise an individual’s right to vote, the only viable remedy is to enjoin its enforcement,” Brown wrote.
Brown wasn’t convinced by the state’s arguments regarding voter fraud.
“Given the extraordinarily low rate of documented voter fraud in this state, it is far more likely that more legitimate voters will be dissuaded from voting than illegitimate voters will be prevented,” Brown wrote.
ACLU-NH Staff Attorney Henry Klementowicz said the judge found that the new forms were confusing and lengthy and could potentially contribute to significantly longer lines at some polling places.
The court also found that some populations, such as the homeless, would be disproportionately burdened by the law, Klementowicz said.
“Today is a big victory for voters in New Hampshire… The Court rightfully found that SB3 does nothing to make our elections more secure while at the same time throwing up difficult roadblocks to voting for some of the most disadvantaged populations,” he said.
Republican Gov. Chris Sununu said he is confident the law will ultimately be upheld, while his Democratic opponent Molly Kelly said she wants the law repealed.
“I’m pleased that the New Hampshire Superior Court has issued an injunction against SB 3, which made voting more confusing for many eligible voters,” Kelly said. “We need a governor who will protect our right to vote, not put barriers in place to this fundamental right.”
Sununu said SB3 is only a modest change to the voter laws.
“As the first in the nation presidential primary state, we have an obligation to ensure the integrity of our elections,” Sununu said, adding all that it does is require those who register to vote to present valid identification.
The court held a hearing from Aug. 27 through Sept. 7.
Ray Buckley, chairman of the Democratic party said the new voter registration forms adopted by the Republican controlled legislature would result in longer lines and would have disparate impact on young people, highly mobile people, those of low socioeconomic status and Democratic voters.
“This injunction is a win for all eligible voters and sends a clear message that voter suppression tactics will not be tolerated in New Hampshire,” Buckley said. “Every qualified voter should be permitted to vote without unnecessary burdens imposed upon them.”