Scratch New Hampshire from the list of states implementing new restrictive voting laws in time to influence this November’s presidential election.
New Hampshire Democratic Gov. John Lynch Thursday vetoed a Republican-sponsored voting access law that he said "would put into place a photo identification system that is far more restrictive than necessary."
Under the bill, various forms of ID would have been acceptable to vote in this fall’s elections, including student ID, but only driver’s licenses, state-issued non-driver’s identification cards, passports or military IDs would be allowed in later elections. Residents without photo ID would have been able to sign an affidavit and be photographed by an election official.
"We need to encourage all New Hampshire citizens to vote and to participate fully in our democracy,” Lynch said in his veto statement. “We also need to ensure that our election laws do not unfairly burden those voters that have recently established a domicile in New Hampshire and are qualified to vote in this state.”
New Hampshire House Speaker William O’Brien, a Republican, blasted Lynch’s veto and defended the law as necessary to guard against voter fraud, though national studies over the years have shown that systemic voter fraud in this country is miniscule.
“The vast majority of New Hampshire voters will be disappointed to learn that in one of his last acts on legislation, this governor has chosen to favor his party’s discrimination mythology about voters being asked for photo identification instead of supporting a common sense solution to the pressing need to ensure honest elections,” O’Brien said in a statement.
New Hampshire was one of 16 states, mostly under GOP control, that have passed laws requiring government-approved photo ID to register or vote. In addition to the photo ID requirement, some GOP-dominated state legislatures have passed measures to restrict third-party voter registration drives; rescind voting right for convicted felons who’ve served their time; and reduce or eliminate early voting periods.
Florida’s legislature, for example, voted to do away with voting on the final Sunday before Election Day. In 2008, black churches conducted “Soul to the Polls” efforts in which parishioners went en masse straight from Sunday service to their polling stations. The effort, which was repeated in other states, was credited in helping President Barak Obama win Florida.
While proponents of the new laws say they are needed to fight voter fraud, civil rights, civil liberties groups and voting rights advocates say the measures are Republican efforts to suppress the votes of minorities, the elderly, younger voters and the poor – groups that tend to vote for Democratic candidates.
The Brennan Center for Justice, which is monitoring changes in voting laws across the country, estimates that the new measures could restrict voting access to five million people.
The new laws could have a huge impact on the race between President Barak Obama and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney of Massachusetts. The state that have approved new voting laws account for 171 electoral votes this year, 63 percent of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency.
Some Democratic congressional lawmakers believe the battle over voting laws was one of the reasons behind the House Oversight and Government Affairs Committee voting to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress.
The committee voted along party lines in regards to Holder’s handling of the failed “Fast and Furious” gunwalking program, but House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and some members of the Congressional Black Caucus told reporters Thursday that the vote was partial payback for Holder’s Justice Department challenging voting access laws in South Carolina, Texas, and Florida.
“Don’t forget they’re going after Eric Holder because he is supporting measures to overturn these voter suppression initiatives in the states,” Pelosi said at her weekly news conference. “It is no coincidence. It is a plan on the part of Republicans.”
Some voting rights experts said New Hampshire’s voting law seemed targeted towards making it difficult for college students to vote. The state is home to 23 colleges and universities. Last year, O’Brien told a Tea Party group that students are “foolish” and usually “vote their feelings” because they’re inexperienced.
“Voting as a liberal,” The New York Times quoted O’Brien as telling the Tea Partiers, “That’s what kids do.”
In his veto statement, Lynch said people “who are 18 and older who attend college in New Hampshire should be able to vote regardless of where they drive or have a license.”
He added that the law was “overly broad and will effectively require resident seniors, as well as retirees and young persons coming from out of state to register a car and apply for a New Hampshire license in order to vote. There is no compelling state interest for this requirement.”
The governor’s veto was hailed by voting rights advocates.
“We are pleased Governor Lynch vetoed this restrictive voter ID bill, which would have made it more difficult for some eligible voters to cast ballots this fall,” said Keesha Gaskins, senior counsel for the Brennan Center. “This law is another example of a legislature placing unreasonable restrictions on voters, without clear benefit to voters or to election officials.”