, Derry, New Hampshire

August 30, 2012

Editorial: Rapid rollout of voter law creates confusion

Derry News

---- — While its goals are laudable, legislators may not have considered fully the burdens their new Voter ID Law places on state and local government.

Local town clerks are busy registering new voters for the Sept. 11 primary and the general election in November. But they are also letting voters know about the requirements of the new law.

Londonderry Town Clerk Meg Seymour said Friday that she plans to attend a training session this week. Until then, she said, she is just advising new voters they will need a photo ID in the future.

“Right now, we’re crazy registering voters,” she said. “Everyone’s getting ready to go back to school.”

Gov. John Lynch vetoed a Voter ID bill in June. The Republican-led Legislature overrode the governor’s veto, then passed a “fix” bill that addressed some of his concerns. Lynch allowed the bill to become law without his signature.

Proponents argue that Voter ID is needed to allay public concerns about the integrity of our elections. Opponents argue that, while actual voter fraud is rare, the law may actually discourage legitimate voters from voting.

There are plenty of ways to address opponents’ concerns. Most basically, the state could provide free IDs to those do not have or cannot afford a photo identification. It seems little enough to do to bolster public confidence in elections.

Of greater concern is the pressure the rapid rollout of the new law places on local election officials.

Asking a sampling of Southern New Hampshire town clerks last week revealed many of them are just now getting up to speed themselves on the new law. Many voters are unaware of the requirements. The Secretary of State’s Office is running several training sessions to inform local election officials of the new law’s provisions.

Town clerks said they haven’t gotten very many, if any, questions from voters about the new law, but the Secretary of State’s Office is getting plenty.

“We’re fielding a lot of questions on a daily basis,” Deputy Secretary of State Dave Scanlon said. “They’re pretty evenly split between election officials and voters.”

The primary Sept. 11 is going to be something of a practice run — for local and state officials and voters.

No photo identification will be required at the polls for the September primary, but poll workers will be advising voters of what they will need to bring with them when they return to cast ballots in the general election in November. Acceptable photo IDs include: a driver’s license from any state; a passport or a valid student ID. Merely being recognized by a town clerk, moderator or supervisor of the checklist is sufficient.

Even in November, a voter who shows up to cast a ballot and doesn’t have an acceptable photo ID can still vote. But those individuals will be required to fill out a “challenged voter affidavit” before they get a ballot.

Within 60 days after the election, the Secretary of State’s Office will mail confirmation requests to voters who filed a challenged voter affidavit. The voter then has 90 days to confirm they did, indeed, vote in the general election. Anyone who doesn’t return the mailings should expect to hear from the Attorney General’s Office, which will be charged with following up to determine whether there was any voter fraud involved.

The Attorney General’s Office has one investigator assigned to election-related issues.

“We’re unable to anticipate how many investigations will need to be done. We won’t know how many will be coming in until after the November election,” Assistant Attorney General Matt Mavrogeorge told our reporter.

“I think they’re going to be pretty busy,” Scanlon said.

Voter ID passed the Legislature by strong, veto-proof majorities, so it is clear there is public sentiment in favor of the law. The Legislature might have done better to delay its enactment until 2013, to give local election officials more time to adapt to the change.