Score this one as a victory for the Speaker of the House. The U.S. Department of Justice signed off on the state’s new voter identification law last week.
Speaker William O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, has championed voter identification legislation during the past two years, and he hasn’t been alone on the Republican side.
“When I came to New Hampshire almost 30 years ago I was surprised, as I think many others were, that we didn’t have to identify ourselves when we exercise the most important civic duty that we have,” O’Brien said. “Voting is a duty that is of greater importance than taking a plane, train, or going into a commercial or federal building, which all require ID. I am pleased we have been able to take this step toward supporting electoral integrity this term.”
O’Brien also noted, apparently trying to tweak Democrats, that identification was required to attend the Democratic National Convention. The law will take effect in time for the election this November, although it was not in effect for the state primary election earlier this week.
Under the new law, people who do not have photo identification can still vote in elections, but they’ll need to sign an affidavit.
The issue became divisive last year, as the GOP argued that people need to present photo identification for day-to-day things like cashing checks or buying beer, so why shouldn’t people have to present an ID when they show up to vote at the polls?
But Democrats and some Republicans pushed back, arguing that it discriminated against the roughly 50,000 people in the state who do not have IDs. They also argued that Republicans were trying to solve a nonexistent problem: voter fraud in New Hampshire.
The issue picked up more steam last fall when a team of documentary filmmakers was able to obtain ballots at a variety of polling locations by using the names of people who had recently died but whose names hadn’t been removed from voter lists.
The GOP won out in passing voter identification legislation this year, but the big win came last week when the U.S. DOJ approved the law, essentially putting it to bed. The law clarifies that to vote in New Hampshire, an individual must be a resident. The law, which passed over Gov. John Lynch’s veto, requires the secretary of state and attorney general to follow up on any individual who registers to vote without providing his or her identity.
The other side
While GOP leadership is pleased, the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union and the League of Women Voters aren’t so happy. The two groups released a joint statement in response to the DOJ decision:
“The law is unnecessary. This photo I.D. law does nothing to improve election procedures in New Hampshire. Instead, it may discourage eligible voters from trying to cast a ballot in the primary election on Tuesday or the presidential election in November under the mistaken belief that they cannot vote if they do not have a government-issued photo ID. Every citizen, 18 years old or older, has the fundamental Constitutional right to vote where they live, whether they possess a photo ID or not.”
The two organizations said the secretary of state has made no affirmative, statewide educational efforts to make sure the public has correct information.
The center of the universe
Much as it has been for big chunks of the last year and a half, New Hampshire was the center of the political universe Friday, Sept. 7.
Fresh off the Democratic National Convention, President Barack Obama, accompanied by first lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden, visited Strawbery Banke in Portsmouth. Obama’s challenger, Mitt Romney, made it a point to visit New Hampshire the same day, appearing at Holman Stadium in Nashua.
It’s become abundantly clear this year that New Hampshire is very much in play and that Obama’s and Romney’s campaigns believe the Granite State’s four electoral votes could be very important come November.
The two campaigns were likely trying to tap energy coming off their respective conventions, and also the fact that people are more likely to be tuned in to politics now that Labor Day has passed. Political analysts say people frequently don’t begin to pay much attention to politics until after the end-of-summer holiday. It will be interesting to see whether polling numbers change for either presidential candidate in the next couple weeks. Stay tuned.