Expect Chaos At N.H. Polls

June 20th, 2013 by Lynn

    By John P. Gregg

    Valley News Staff Writer

    Thursday, June 20, 2013
    (Published in print: Thursday, June 20, 2013) 

    There’s a good chance of aggravation and even chaos at the polls in college towns such as Hanover and Plymouth, N.H., come the 2016 New Hampshire primary.

    House and Senate negotiators in Concord this week have failed to agree on rolling back the second phase of New Hampshire’s Voter ID law — enacted when Tea Party Republicans ran the House — which means by later this year, the acceptable list of identification cards voters may use to vote at the polls will no longer include college IDs.

    That means hundreds of college students at Dartmouth College, Plymouth State, Keene State and University of New Hampshire who historically have used their college IDs to vote in statewide and presidential elections will instead have to sign an affidavit attesting to their identities, and then go to another spot in the polling precinct and have their photos taken by election officials.

    That’s because they are unlikely to trek to Claremont or other sites where the Division of Motor Vehicles has offices to get a state-sponsored ID.

    State Sen. David Pierce, a Hanover Democrat who has long worked to protect the voting rights of college students in New Hampshire, is still hopeful that Phase 2 provisions limiting the list of acceptable IDs and requiring “mug shots” of voters who can’t produce the valid papers might still be delayed in a compromise until 2015.

    But even then, he notes, that still means the provisions would kick in before the 2016 New Hampshire presidential primary, sure to be a wide-open contest in both parties.

    “If the prediction of local moderators holds true, that’s going to create chaos and longer lines (at the polls),” Pierce said. “The Secretary of State has consistently testified that longer lines amount to a functional disenfranchisement of voters.”

    Republicans have said voter ID laws protect the integrity of the voting process, but Pierce maintains the Republican intent is to make it harder to vote for groups traditionally allied with Democrats.

    Whatever the motivation, the camera provision, tightening of IDs and changes that would prevent moderators from allowing voters they recognize to vote are drawing the ire of local election officials. And Pierce said the costs to the state could approach $1 million over three or four years.

    Betsy McClain, the director of administrative services and town clerk in Hanover, said the town has been able to handle the initial phase of the voter ID law, which required a photo ID or affidavit of voters, but included college and employee IDs.

    But if Phase 2 goes into effect, McClain predicts that more than 700 voters — and possibly more than 1,000 — could wind up in the time-consuming affidavit and photo process.

    “Taking photographs at the polling place, really?” McClain wrote in an email yesterday. “Given the fiscal challenges our state faces, how could anyone (elected officials or otherwise) possibly endorse the expenditure of state funds to outfit all of the New Hampshire polling places with cameras and printers?”

    McClain also said lawmakers erred in stripping local officials of authority at their polling places.

    “I take exception to the Legislature stripping our chief election officials of their authority to verify voters in our jurisdiction. The Voter ID law currently in effect recognizes that our elected Supervisors of the Checklist, town clerk … and moderator are residents of Hanover and are empowered to exercise their knowledge of the community to verify identity and familiarity with local institutions to recognize other legitimate photo ID’s. To defrock us of this authority is insulting.”

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