In the 2016 election, Republicans won unified control of the New Hampshire state government. The result has been a sharp conservative turn for the centrist state—including an attempted crackdown on voting rights. Republicans in the state legislature are currently pushing a sweeping voter registration bill that would require new voters to provide proof they plan to reside in the state permanently. If a voter fails to provide this evidence, the bill would allow local law enforcement to visit her at her registered address and “verify that the individual was domiciled there on Election Day.”
There is a term for this kind of measure: voter intimidation. Nobody seriously believes that New Hampshire has a problem with short-term visitors casting ballots in the state (although Donald Trump did baselessly allege that “serious voter fraud” occurred there in November). Rather, the bill appears to be a reaction to Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan’s narrow win over incumbent Republican Kelly Ayotte. Its sponsor, Republican Sen. Regina Birdsell, has claimed that college students and “people coming over the border” could be swinging elections in the state. She contends her constituents have seen “cars from Massachusetts coming in on Election Day.”
To remedy this purported problem—whose existence is supported by no empirical evidence—Birdsell’s measure would crack down on voters who register within 30 days of an election. Under the bill, these individuals would have to corroborate their claims to permanent residency with “a verifiable act or acts,” such as a letter from their university, a hunting license, a tax form, a lease, or a driver’s license. If the voter does not have these materials when he registers, he can sign an affidavit attesting to his residency. (Democrats argue that the dense, lengthy affidavit amounts to a literacy test.) The voter must then bring the evidence to a town hall no more than 10 days after the election, or 30 days after the election in towns where the clerk’s office is only open part-time. And if he fails to do that, election officials can ask police officers to stop by the voter’s address and verify that he lives there.
The bill also allows “municipal officials” to personally visit the voter’s home, or to request that the Secretary of State’s office send a letter demanding verification. If the voter doesn’t provide proof of residence by the deadline, election officials must inform the secretary of state and attorney general’s offices, which are required to investigate. The voter could be prosecuted for voter fraud and subject to a $5,000 fine.
Democratic Sen. Donna Soucy has slammed the bill as an effort to frighten voters out of exercising the franchise. The police checks provision, she said, may be “so intimidating that some people will walk away and lose their right to vote or feel that their right is being threatened.” But Republican Secretary of State Bill Gardner has endorsed the bill as a worthwhile attempt “to prevent ‘drive-by’ voting.” Birdsell expects it will pass out of the Senate Election Law and Internal Affairs Committee, which she chairs, on Tuesday. After that, she expects it to pass the Republican-dominated Senate and House and receive the signature of Republican Gov. Chris Sununu.
Birdsell’s bill provides yet another stark reminder that in the United States today, the Republican Party stands almost entirely united in its campaign to suppress the vote. While Democrats are striving to expand suffrage in the few states where they hold power, Republicans are cracking down on voting rights, and diluting the votes of those Democrats who can cast a ballot. It is a study in contrasts—and a bracing reminder that Republicans are brilliantly manipulating the electoral process to entrench a permanent, if illegitimate, majority.