Fri. Mar 1st, 2024
NH lawmakers will be taking up major voting bills this year. Here are some to watch for.


On Wednesday, the New Hampshire House passed a bill that would make registering to vote an online experience.

House Bill 463 would allow the Secretary of State’s Office to create an online election information portal that would let new voters register to vote in their city or town over the internet – and would let all voters request absentee ballots online as well.

Voting rights advocates cheered the 195-172 vote. New Hampshire Campaign for Voting Rights Director McKenzie St. Germain called it “a huge step forward to modernize our election infrastructure and improve voter access.”

Lawmakers are set to tackle more than 70 bills focused on elections or voting.Lawmakers are set to tackle more than 70 bills focused on elections or voting.

Lawmakers are set to tackle more than 70 bills focused on elections or voting.

The bill moves next to the Senate. But it’s not the only election-related legislation this year. Lawmakers are set to tackle more than 70 bills focused on elections or voting.

Some echo familiar partisan fights. Republican-sponsored bills have emphasized ballot security and voter verification, while Democratic bills have prioritized improving access to the polls for more voters. And some enter entirely new frontiers, such as artificial intelligence.

Here are some of the major voting bills to watch in 2024.

Easier voting

Lawmakers on both sides have proposed methods to ease the process of voting.

Republicans have proposed House Bill 1133, which would allow overseas voters and those in the military to send in their completed ballots by email.

Democrats, meanwhile, are renewing an effort to allow for “no-excuse absentee ballots,” allowing voters to vote by absentee ballot without being out of town or unable to attend because of a physical disability. Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed an earlier attempt to do so in 2020 under a Democratic legislature.

Rep. Mark Paige, an Exeter Democrat, is proposing a requirement that towns and cities provide accessible voting machines to voters with disabilities in all elections. Currently, the state provides accessible voting systems to towns and cities but only during federal elections. Paige’s bill, House Bill 1264, would mandate that towns and cities acquire the machines for use in local elections as well. The machines allow voters to use tablets and sound prompts to more easily vote.

But not all bills are designed to make it easier to vote. House Bill 1569, proposed by Rep. Bob Lynn, a Windham Republican, would dramatically increase the requirements to vote by requiring a photo identification at the polls – with no exceptions. Currently, voters may fill out an affidavit that attests to who they are and where they live and must mail documents to prove this to the Secretary of State’s Office within seven days of the election, or face criminal charges. Lynn’s bill would eliminate that option, and it would require new voters to present a “birth certificate, passport, naturalization papers” or other document that demonstrates their citizenship in order to register.

Another lawmaker is working to improve the voting day experience for poll workers.

Rep. Ellen Read, a Newmarket Democrat, has sponsored a bill that would make harassment of election officials a crime, and would make it illegal to post personal information online that brings an “imminent and serious threat” to them or their family. House Bill 1364 would also prohibit any threats of force or violence made “in retaliation against the official on account of the official’s performance of the official’s duties” – currently, the anti-intimidation law applies only while the poll worker is working at the polling place.

A focus on political ads

Some lawmakers have focused on political advertising, proposing ideas to both add and remove regulations.

One bill would cap the amount of advertising that can be done in public spaces. House Bill 1092 would require any candidate or advocacy group to place their signs in public spaces no more than 60 days before the election.

House Bill 1150 would remove the requirement that political advertising be labeled as political advertising when it appears in newspapers, periodicals, or billboards.

House Bill 1596, in contrast, would add a disclosure requirement around a different form of media: artificial intelligence “deep fakes.” The bipartisan bill would require that campaigns disclose if they use “a deceptive and fraudulent deep fake” image that was generated by a computer.

Closer scrutiny

Some bills this year seek to tighten scrutiny over the state’s voting system.

A bill by Derry Republican Rep. Erica Layon, House Bill 1310, would require that supervisors of the checklist meet at least every 90 days – during election years and non-election years – to keep the town or city voter rolls continually up to date.

And Senate Bill 490, proposed by Sen. Kevin Avard, would shorten the state’s schedule to update the voter rolls from every 10 years to every two years.

Some Democrats are attempting again to require that the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s Office participate in the Electronic Registration Information Center system, or “ERIC,” an initiative run by a nonprofit organization that allows states to share voter rolls in order to determine whether people voted in more than one state illegally. House Bill 1557 would mandate that the Secretary of State’s Office enter into a membership agreement with ERIC. Republicans have opposed membership, objecting to portions of the program that promote voter registration.

On Wednesday, the House killed a Senate bill, Senate Bill 156, that would have allowed an authorized election official access to nonpublic information in the state’s voter database in order to verify a voter’s identity, if necessary.

Moving forward, Sen. James Gray, the chairman of the Senate Election Law and Municipal Affairs Committee, has proposed a bill that would require the Secretary of State’s Office to conduct an audit of at least eight ballot counting devices across the state after an election. The bill, Senate Bill 489, would require the audit to cover at least 4 percent of the total ballots.

Enshrining ‘first in the nation’ in the constitution

A year after the Democratic National Committee first made moves to restructure the presidential primary schedule and put South Carolina in the top spot, lawmakers are looking to make New Hampshire’s position especially clear.

A constitutional amendment proposed by Sen. Daryl Abbas would create Article 101 in Part 2, which would state: “The New Hampshire presidential primary shall be at least one week before any similar nominating contest.” The bill is sponsored by all 13 Senate Republicans as well as Republican House Speaker Sherman Packard and former House Democratic Speaker Steve Shurtleff.

The constitutional amendment, CACR22, needs at least a 60 percent vote in both the House and Senate before it can be put to voters on the general election ballot in November.

Senators in both parties are also pushing for Senate Bill 344, which would require any candidate running for president to sign a declaration that they will respect the secretary of state’s designated date for the primary, in order to appear on the primary ballot.

The first-in-the-nation contest is not the only primary up for debate in the Legislature this year. Lawmakers are once again grappling with whether to move the state primary – currently in September – earlier in the year to allow primary winners more time to campaign against their opponents before the general election in November. Critics of New Hampshire’s current system argue the two-month window gives an advantage to incumbents, who often don’t face primary challengers and can campaign as their party’s front-runner for months.

Some lawmakers have favored setting a primary date in August; on Wednesday the House passed House Bill 115 to do so, 281-82. Others are proposing to move the state primary to June, following an approach in Senate Bill 380.

Sununu has opposed efforts to move the state primary; in 2021, he vetoed a bill to schedule it in August. The governor argued that holding the primary during the summer would drive down participation from vacationing families.

This story was originally published by the New Hampshire Bulletin

This article originally appeared on Portsmouth Herald: NH lawmakers will be taking up these major voting bills in 2024



Source link