By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
New Hampshire stood out on a recently published map of states changing voting laws to expand restrictions.
It was the only state in the Northeastern part of the country to do so, while the other states making changes were in the south and in the west.
This has been a trend in New Hampshire for the last decade or more although the Supreme Court has generally held the changes unconstitutional including its latest ruling on the infamous Senate Bill 3 making it more difficult for college students to vote in New Hampshire.
In that ruling the court found the law violates constitutionally guaranteed equal protection provisions and placed an unreasonable burden on the right to vote.
The court said, “We also conclude that the State failed to carry its burden to demonstrate that SB 3 is substantially related to an important governmental objective.”
In other words, there was no good reason to make it more difficult to vote.
The legislature this year passed a number of bills dealing with voting, many walking back the changes made due to the COVID-19 pandemic for the 2020 elections.
Although the loosening of particularly absentee voting requirements helped produce record turnout for the 2020 general election, the Republican majority in the legislature this year did not believe it was a good idea to continue the changes.
Instead, they passed a few laws to make voting even a little more difficult and required the Attorney General’s Office to review election results to determine if there might be some abnormalities in voting trends in communities.
Another bill would require an audit after an election to ensure the vote counting was accurate, and other things that have never been performed before by election or legal officials.
All of this has to do with the GOP’s contention there were significant problems with the 2020 election, although the courts and state and federal officials deny that and instead say it was one of the most secure elections in history.
Voting is either a fundamental right like freedom of speech or protections against search and seizure or self-incrimination or it is not.
The 15th amendment to the Constitution says, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
The 13th and 19th amendments also address voting rights and none say college students, women, the elderly or minorities have to jump through hoops that other people do not in order to vote.
Voting restrictions are intended to make it more difficult for people who may disagree with the ruling party’s political philosophy to vote and give the party in power an unfair advantage, just as gerrymandering does.
Let’s be honest and say this is all about demographics and current trends and where they are heading and retaining political power despite that.
This is possible because state’s control the election process within their boundaries, not the federal government.
The federal government can pass voting laws that states have to follow such as the Voting Rights Act, but the nuts and bolts of elections are determined by states provided they do not run afoul of federal laws.
Last week, two bills approved by the Legislature showed the schizophrenic nature of state voting laws and how they affect the people who approve them.
House Bill 98 would have changed the date of the state primary from the second Tuesday in September to the first Tuesday in August.
New Hampshire may have the first-in-the-nation presidential primary, but it has one of the last-in-the-nation state primaries.
Most states have primaries before July and only a couple of states hold primaries after New Hampshire.
The state always faces a sprint to finalize the general election ballot, i.e. finish recounts, have them printed and send them to overseas military personnel before the federal deadline.
That is one issue, but there are more with the current primary date if you believe sponsors of the bill.
The primary date gives winners a scant seven to eight weeks to campaign before the general election.
That is not a lot of time to mend party fences if you have been in a contentious primary, raise money for your campaign and heighten your profile for the general election.
The short time period puts challengers at a disadvantage in most cases because incumbents have the advantage of name recognition, an electronic rolodex of past contributors and usually no need to mend fences in his or her party.
Most political observers would agree the current schedule certainly helps incumbents win re-election.
The bill had gone through a number of changes since it was first introduced by state GOP executive director Joe Sweeney, R-Salem, with the primary on the fourth Tuesday in June.
The Senate changed it to the second Tuesday in August and after a conference committee, the date was the first Tuesday in August and that passed both the House and Senate with bipartisan work and support.
When the bill passed last month, Republican Gov. Chris Sununu said he was thinking of vetoing the bill and he did last week, quoting Secretary of State Bill Gardner.
Sununu claimed it would add challenges to the process and reduce voting turnout with the primary in the middle of the summer, although others disagreed.
He called New Hampshire elections the “gold standard” although when he was first elected governor he told a Boston radio show host it was common knowledge Democrats bused in voters from out of state for elections.
The comment was one reason former President Donald Trump gave for establishing a voter fraud commission, which eventually disbanded without finding any significant problems.
The vote on House Bill 98 was close enough in the House that an override is extremely unlikely, although the Senate passed the bill twice on non-recorded voice votes.
But also last week, the governor signed Senate Bill 89, which is the anti “The People’s Act” bill which would require separate rules and procedures for federal and state elections.
The People’s Act is currently stalled and likely to die in the U.S. Senate.
The bill not only protects voting rights now under attack in a number of states, it also seeks to curtail the amount of money spent on elections due to the Citizens United U.S. Supreme Court decision, and would attempt to end gerrymandering.
Voting activist group 603 Forward chairman Lucas Meyer called the bill anti-democratic and confusing to all voters.
“SB 89 is an anti-democracy, political stunt designed to protect the archaic, corrupt status quo with serious real world implications,” Meyer said. “It creates a completely unworkable system of separate state and federal elections, crushing our local election officials.”
He also said the bill is an unfunded mandate that will cost taxpayers more money for elections.
Confusion is the goal when you cannot convince a majority of the greater good of your policies.
If you confuse enough people who will stay home because it is more difficult to vote, you have an opportunity to truly steal an election.
At one time, the goal was to improve voter turnout so the views of the vast majority of people were followed.
Now it is to ensure it is easier for your side to vote, while making it more difficult for the other side.
That sounds kind of undemocratic.
Garry Rayno may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Distant Dome by veteran journalist Garry Rayno explores a broader perspective on the State House and state happenings for InDepthNH.org. Over his three-decade career, Rayno covered the NH State House for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Foster’s Daily Democrat. During his career, his coverage spanned the news spectrum, from local planning, school and select boards, to national issues such as electric industry deregulation and Presidential primaries. Rayno lives with his wife Carolyn in New London.