Organizations from across New Hampshire have come together to urge the Justice Department to reject the new Voter ID law.
A coalition including League of Women Voters, N.H. Civil Liberties Union, America Votes, American Friends Service Committee, Credo SuperPAC, Demos, Fair Election Legal Network, Granite State Independent Living, Latinos Unidos, NAACP Branch 2070, NH AFL-CIO, NH Citizens Alliance, NH Young Democrats, NEA-NH, SEIU Local 1984, Service Employees International Union and Working Families Win submitted letters today to the U.S. Department of Justice asking the Department to deny pre-clearance of the state’s new voter photo identification law (Chapter 284) and new voter registration law (Chapter 285).
New Hampshire is required to submit all changes in voting laws to the U.S. Department of Justice for pre-clearance before the laws can go into effect. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires the department to deny pre-clearance of state laws that have either a discriminatory purpose or the effect of suppressing the right to vote on account of race or color or membership in a language minority.
“There’s no legitimate reason for the radical changes the photo ID law makes to the way we vote in New Hampshire,” said Joan Flood Ashwell, election law specialist for the League of Women Voters of New Hampshire. “Years of investigations by the Attorney General’s office have confirmed that we don’t have a problem with voter impersonation fraud. That’s not surprising since that kind of voter fraud is virtually unheard of anywhere in the United States. We believe the real intent of this photo ID law is to make it more difficult for certain groups of people to vote, including students, the elderly, minorities and the disabled.
“Members of the House and Senate heard testimony that thousands of New Hampshire citizens don’t have a photo ID – 25,000 to 50,000 according to the Secretary of State,” Ashwell said. “In this presidential election, students will be able to use their student IDs but that will change in 2013 when the law becomes the strictest in the United States. It will be unnecessarily more difficult for students to vote, especially those who come here from other states and are much more likely to be minorities.”
Jessica Clark, political and field director of America Votes, said the ever-changing requirements of the photo ID law and the lack of an education program seemed designed to discourage people from even trying to vote.
“We’ve already seen incorrect headlines in the papers saying that a photo ID will be needed to vote this November,” Clark said. “This is an overly complex law that requires a statewide education campaign using newspapers, TV and radio in addition to brochures and handouts. Some members of the House Election Law Committee tried to include an education campaign in the law but that was rejected by the sponsors of the legislation and by the House and Senate leadership. Voters need to know that they can sign an affidavit and obtain a ballot. In 2013, they’ll have to have a photo taken as well. America Votes believes the affidavit and photo are offensive and unnecessary but we also believe people should know there’s an option that is better than no vote at all.”
The second law, Chapter 285, changes the voter registration form to include a statement requiring people to agree that they must register their car in New Hampshire and obtain a New Hampshire driver’s license within 60 days of registering to vote. The wording of the new voter registration form contradicts New Hampshire motor vehicle laws which make it illegal for those who intend to leave New Hampshire at a specific point in time to register a car or obtain a driver’s license in New Hampshire.
“Chapter 285 is an attempt to change the definition of ‘domicile’ in Part 1, Article 11 of the New Hampshire Constitution,” said Claire Ebel, Executive Director of the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union. “A 1984 New Hampshire Supreme Court decision – George J. Every v. Supervisors of the Madison Checklist – defined ‘domicile’ as distinct from residence. According to Ebel, “There is no question that Chapter 285 is meant to keep out-of-state college students from being able to register and vote in New Hampshire However, that question was decided by a federal district court decision in 1972 in Newberger v. Peterson, which established the right of students to vote where they attend school. Students, visiting faculty, members of the military and others who know that they will leave New Hampshire at some definite point in the future have the right to register and to vote here while they live here.”
The coalition’s submissions describe the two new election laws as retrogressive and discriminatory and said they will reduce minority voting across the state. They criticize the Legislature for not presenting data to determine the impact of the laws, especially since these issues were brought to their attention repeatedly in hearings and in letters. The coalition said the laws are unnecessary, and the Justice Department should deny preclearance because the state failed to meet its burden under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.