CONCORD, N.H. (CN) – A controversial new voter registration law in New Hampshire will stay in place until after Election Day, the state’s highest court ruled on Friday.
In an unanimous order, the New Hampshire Supreme Court agreed with the state that a lower court’s recent injunction, “creates both a substantial risk of confusion and disruption of the orderly conduct of the election, and the prospect that similarly situated voters may be subjected to differing voter registration and voting procedures in the same election cycle.”
Republican Governor Chris Sununu signed Senate Bill 3 into law in response to unfounded claims of out-of-state voter fraud. The 2017 law requires that voters attempting to register within 30 days of an election provide evidence of a “verifiable act of domicile.” In the underlying case, the New Hampshire Democratic Party, the state League of Women Voters and several individual voters claimed that the stricter proof-of-residency requirements disenfranchises college students, minorities and low-income voters.
In his ruling on Monday, Superior Court Judge Kenneth Brown found that SB3 “does nothing to actually prevent voter fraud.” He also sided with expert testimony that the law could create longer lines at polling places, disproportionately burdens certain populations and requires confusing forms.
On Wednesday, Secretary of State Bill Gardner and Attorney General Gordon MacDonald filed an emergency motion to stay Brown’s order. They claimed that Brown’s instructions to revert back to 2016 registration forms was confusing local poll workers. The lower court also erred, the state argued, in assuming that the law’s general purpose is to prevent voter fraud.
While the five justices did not address the merits of the law, they declined to interfere on the eve of an upcoming election. Citing that the law has been in effect since 2017, the court noted that voters who register on Election Day will not be subjected to the same procedures as earlier registrants.
“The ruling is a setback for New Hampshire’s electoral integrity, but it also highlights just how important it is for all eligible Granite State voters to make their voices heard on Election Day, ” said New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley in a statement Friday night. “We will have resources in the field to assist any voters confused by this unconstitutional law. ”
Associate Attorney General Anne Edwards, who led the state’s defense team, said in a statement that the Supreme Court’s order, “confirms the serious concerns raised by the State regarding the injunction issued earlier this week and the very real possibility of confusion and disruption it could have caused for the 2018 General Election.”
“The State believes that maintaining the status quo regarding the current voter registration process will best serve New Hampshire’s voters,” Edwards said.
An earlier ruling by the trial court that stripped the law of its civil and criminal penalties remains in effect.