Voting Rights Groups Confront Scanlan for His Take on Proposed Voting Legislation

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Paula Tracy photo

Protesters marched at the State House over voting rights bills on Tuesday.


CONCORD – With the House and Senate poised to vote Thursday on a bill that would change the rules on voting and another already passed, a group of protesters held a rally in opposition to it and went to the Secretary of State’s office asking him to vocally oppose both bills and to advise the governor to veto them.

Secretary of State David Scanlan, who met with leaders of the groups Kent Street Coalition and 603 Forward, said he has said all he wants to publicly about House Bill 1370, which will be voted on and on House Bill 1569 which has already passed.

He told last week it will be more work for election workers but his office can administer a measure which has reached consensus among House and Senate negotiators eliminating the voter identification exceptions.

Currently, those who show up at the polls in New Hampshire without identification can still vote but need to sign an affidavit attesting, under penalty, that they are who they are and have a right to vote in that location. 

Scanlan said House Bill 1370, would set up a system to verify for those without ID with the polling location and through contacts at the Department of Motor Vehicle and within 20 minutes that could occur or the voter could be given either a verification ballot, similar to what is currently supplied, or a judicial review ballot if they want to go directly to court.

“It’s not unreasonable,” Scanlan said, and it is important for the voters to feel confident that the participants in an election are qualified.

He noted there is another bill which has not yet been signed into law, but which passed both the House and Senate, House Bill 1569, which is “more strict” Scanlan said, and first time voters without documentation would be turned away.

He said the bill requires his office to work with other state agencies who can confirm domicile which would eliminate those voter identification exceptions.

Scanlan said he attended the committee of conference on the bill Wednesday which was amended by Sen. James Gray, R-Rochester and before he left they had yet to reach a unanimous consensus vote.

It was then, after a number of conferees were replaced by House and Senate leadership that they got a unanimous vote. 

State Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, who is Senate President, replaced Sen. Donna Soucy, D-Manchester with himself while and House Democratic Reps Gerry Ward of Portsmouth and Connie Lane of Concord were replaced by Republican Reps Thomas Walsh of Hooksett and Fred Doucette of Salem. 

The bill was opposed by many Democrats and town clerks and other municipal officials concerned it may disenfranchise voters and would be more work.

It would give the Secretary of State’s office $100,000 to set up training for election officials and create a hotline of sorts, which would replace signed affidavits for those who are without documentation and wanting to vote.

The process in the bill will be used for the Sept. 10 primary and the Nov. 5 general election, if signed into law.

Gov. Chris Sununu, an outgoing Republican, said like other voter bills, he would listen to the position of the Secretary of State on any changes. Scanlan said he has not yet spoken with the governor on the matter but will if it is headed to his desk.

A copy of the bill passed by the Senate is here

Lucas Meyer, co-founder of 603 Forward, said this is “a really important moment for voting rights in the state.”

He said the bills represent some of the biggest overhauls that we have seen in our elections and pose a really, really serious threat to anyone and everyone’s right to vote in the state.

For once he said it would be nice for our chief election officer to tell us the impacts of the legislation.

“What we have found over the past week is that there are incredibly, fundamentally concerning questions about the constitutionality of this bill, the feasibility of this bill and the numbers it will impact.”

Louise Spencer, co-founder of the Kent Street Coalition, said voting rights are one of the volunteer group’s priorities and she said right now, “we are facing an imminent threat to our voting rights.”

She said the bills represent an unnecessary overhaul of how we do elections in New Hampshire.

“We are proud of our traditions,” she said. “We run fair, free and secure elections. We are known for it here in the state and across the country.”

Spencer said the bills would go into effect before voting in September and force clerks and election officials to learn a new process.

She said it is one of the most consequential elections of our lifetime.

“Why would we upend our elections right before that?” she said.

Phil Hatcher, a ward clerk in Dover, also spoke to opposition to the legislation and told Scanlan that he and other election officials were concerned for his lack of support for them in these bills and that it was inferred that if something goes wrong in September in implementing these bills, it would be left to the election workers to be blamed. 

“It doesn’t seem like (Scanlan) represents election officials,” he said.

Scanlan told him that election officials are critical to the process.

He said the group should focus on lobbying the legislature before the vote. 

“The legislature sets the policy,” he said.

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