Veto of “voter ID” law upheld in New Hampshire

Poorer people and students scored a voting rights victory in New Hampshire as a veto by Democratic Gov. John Lynch of a controversial voter ID law was upheld.

Republicans in the State Senate attempted to override the veto, but Lynch’s move was sustained by a 17-7 margin. Senate Republicans were divided over the measure, which was passed 14-9 in June. Senate President Peter Bragdon and Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, Republicans, were among those in the GOP voting to sustain the Democratic governor’s veto.

The state’s Senate is composed of 19 Republicans and five Democrats. The House is slightly more Democratic, with 297 Republicans and 103 Democrats.

The controversial proposed law, Senate Bill 129, was opposed by groups ranging from the state AFL-CIO to the League of Women Voters. On the other side, the tea party movement and the majority of the state Republican Party favored the bill.

If the bill had become law, voters would have been forced to present photo identification from either a New Hampshire or a federal government agency when they went to the polls. If they could not do so, they would then have had to have cast a provisional ballot and return within 2.5 days with proper identification. If they did not do so, their ballot would have been discarded.

The veto, says America Votes, “reinforces the integrity of elections in New Hampshire and ensures fair and equal access to the ballot.”

Lynch sided with those who saw this as an attempt by Republicans to disenfranchise voters, saying that “seniors, students, those who are disabled or do not drive, and those who do not already have a state-issued or federal issued” identification might not have been able to attain one in time to vote.

He added in June, when the Senate passed the measure, that acquiring acceptable identification would be particularly difficult for people without good transportation. New Hampshire, he pointed out, has state offices that are only opened a few days a week. Additionally, many local Registry of Motor Vehicles offices had been closed and consolidated into regional centers, meaning that a trip to the RMV might take a long time – especially for someone who has no license and therefore cannot drive.

Supporters of the vetoed bill say that it would have reduced voter fraud. But across the country, critics charge, Republicans have been pushing voter ID programs to disenfranchise those who would likely vote Democratic, especially African Americans and Latinos.

In New Hampshire, however, there are relatively few members of either group. Opponents say the law was aimed at keeping students, another traditionally Democratic-leaning demographic, away from the polls.

According to their detractors, New Hampshire Republican leaders are part of what is called a corporate-driven Republican national agenda. The American Legislative Exchange Council, which, according to the American Association for Justice, operates as ” the ultimate smoke-filled back room,” is seen to have its hands in New Hampshire politics. In August, Granite State Progress called on New Hampshire House Speaker Bill O’Brien to release a list of state legislators who had attended ALEC’s recent conference.

The voter ID drive in New Hampshire is itself far from dead, however. Republicans in the state’s House of Representatives plan to revive it, possibly entering a new bill as early as Weds.

The original bill was drafted in the State Senate, more right leaning than the House, and did not include the provision allowing people those without photo ID to cast provisional ballots. However, the House, in passing its version of the bill, added the rule.

Unions want the House to vote on another bill vetoed by Gov. Lynch, a so-called “paycheck protection” measure, which would limit funds labor can collect from its membership. Labor leaders believe that the vote to override its recall will fail.

Photo: Gov. John Lynch and wife. Marc Nozell // CC 2.0

CORRECTION: This article originally listed the wrong numbers in the breakdown of Democrats and Republicans in the New Hampshire House of Representatives.