NH Judge Pauses Stringent Voter-Registration Law

MANCHESTER, N.H. (CN) – Blocking New Hampshire’s voter-identification law with less than two weeks until midterm elections, a judge said Monday that an injunction is the only way to prevent the threat of disenfranchisement.

(Photo via New Hampshire Secretary of State)

Senate Bill 3 may have the stated goal of combatting voter fraud, but Hillsborough County Superior Court Judge Kenneth Brown said in his 23-page order that it “simply imposes additional burdens on legitimate voters.”

Strict proof-of-residency requirements are the primary culprit. Because New Hampshire allows voters to register on Election Day, Republican lawmakers claimed that proof of domicile should be required to prevent voter fraud by out-of-state residents.

But challengers with the New Hampshire Democratic Party and the state League of Women Voters claimed in their complaint that the law targets college students, racial minorities and low-income voters — all of whom tend to live in precincts with the highest number of same-day registrations and tend to vote Democratic.

Brown agreed Monday that the bill “does nothing to actually prevent 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,” the ruling statesBrown.

Brown issued the temporary injunction after a summer featuring weeks of testimony from students, a literacy expert, a queueing expert and others.

Citing the average number of words, syllables-per-word and other factors, English professor Deborah Bosley equated the readability of the domicile affidavits with the Harvard Law Review.

Judge Brown found this unacceptable for a law that is “meant to be read, understood, and followed — under threat of criminal charges and civil fines — by eligible citizens regardless of education or disability, under the pressure of a line of dozens, if not hundreds, waiting behind them, and with the assistance of volunteers with as little as five minutes of training.”

Queuing expert Muer Yang meanwhile testified that SB3 would add another two to five minutes per voter to the time it takes to register at a polling location.

Brown said such longer wait times would disproportionately affect the physically disabled, not to mention the homeless, who often lack the documentation necessary to show proof of residency.

With midterm elections days away, Brown ordered the state to revert back to the 2016 domicile registration forms in the upcoming election. In a statement Monday, Secretary of State William Gardner seemed unfazed by the logistics of the process but irritated with the characterization of the bill.

“We will have this election regardless of any obstacle,” said Gardner, Gardner, a registered Democrat and the longest-serving secretary of state in the country. “What is more troublesome, however, is rhetoric painting this order as evidence of active voter suppression when it is a fact that New Hampshire is the easiest state in the country to vote in since we are the only state with election day registration, no durational residency requirement, and no provisional ballots. This order does not change that.”

Governor Chris Sununu, who signed SB3 into law last year, suggested meanwhile that the state is not backing down. “SB3 is a modest change to our election laws that does nothing more than ensure that all those who register to vote present valid identification,” he said in a statement. “While this ruling is not unexpected, it is just one step in the process and I am confident that SB 3 will ultimately be upheld.”

New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley saw the bill as part of a larger attempt to disenfranchise 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,” said Buckley in a statement.

Monday’s ruling is the second blow to SB3. Last September, Hillsborough County Judge Charles Temple allowed the law to go into effect but stripped the penalty portion. A full hearing on the merits of the law is expected in the coming months.

Associate Attorney General Anne Edwards, who led the state’s defense team, issued a statement Monday evening saying the office is “reviewing the court’s order and will be communicating about next steps as soon as possible.”

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