New Hampshire

Top NH Dems propose no-excuse absentee voting

Jan. 31 — CONCORD — Top leadership of the Senate and House Democrats on Tuesday proposed a no-pardon absentee ballot, one of the key conditions New Hampshire says a body of the Democratic National Committee must meet if it wants to hold an early presidential primary in 2024 .

Secretary of State David Scanlan opposed the law (SB 220), claiming it would require an amendment to the state constitution to allow any voter to receive a postal vote for any reason.

Current law limits absentee ballots to people with disabilities or those who are unable to vote on election day due to work demands, caring for a family member, or religious reasons.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, lawmakers passed legislation for the 2020 election only, allowing any voter to receive a postal ballot if he or she had health concerns.

Voter turnout in November 2020 set a record 814,092 votes cast, 85,000 more than the previous mark in 2016.

The number of voters absent was 261,062, nearly triple the previous peak.

“This is a very modest step. It has been tried and done in a very competent way,” said Soucy.

All 10 Senate Democrats have signed the bill, as has Manchester House Speaker Matt Wilhelm.

Currently, 27 states allow absentee ballots, and another eight states allow voters to vote by mail.

Unlike mail-in voting, this change would continue to ensure timely reporting of New Hampshire’s election results, Soucy said.

“Some states with mail-in voting allow ballots to be received after Election Day. I think that’s problematic,” Soucy said.

“We’re doing things quite effectively and one reason for that … is that we’re declaring a winner so on election night people know who won. I think this is a process that is good for us and should be continued.”

Scanlan was the only opponent attending Tuesday’s hearing on the proposal.

He said the state constitution has had a provision restricting postal voting for decades.

“I believe the constitution would have to be changed to allow for this,” Scanlan said.

Henry Klementowicz, chief attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire, said he disagreed with Scanlan’s constitutional analysis.

In 1941, the constitution was amended to allow the disabled to vote by mail, and the legislature expanded this to include work and related causes, he said.

“This has been the law of the country for decades and has never been questioned,” Klementowicz said.

“I don’t think the constitution prohibits voting without an apology. I think it is the responsibility of this body and the other body to define what absentee voting means.”

After the hearing, incoming Republican state leader Chris Ager asked the legislature to reject the amendment.

“New Hampshire already makes voting incredibly easy and has an incredibly high voter turnout,” Ager said in a statement. “This is yet another democratic solution to a problem that would open our system to abuse.”

Sununu, GOP leader: No deal

The DNC Rules and Bylaws Board initially gave the Legislature until Jan. 5 to adopt this amendment and repeal the first presidential primary law in the nation in New Hampshire.

Last week, the panel pushed back that deadline for action to June 5.

Gov. Chris Sununu has called those demands “blackmail,” and Republican lawmakers have said they are “non-starters” for legislature adoption in 2023.

A coalition of voting rights groups supported them.

“People should be able to exercise their right to vote the way they want without encountering unnecessary obstacles,” said Christina FitzPatrick, AARP state director.

MacKenzie St. Germain, state director of the Campaign for Voting Rights, said research has shown that expanded voting by mail does not give either Democrats or Republicans an advantage.

Representatives from the League of Women Voters and Open Democracy also supported it.

Another part of this bill, which would allow local election officials to pre-process absentee ballots before Election Day, appears to have bipartisan support.

The COVID law of 2020 allowed city and county officials to monitor this pre-processing, which local officials say drastically reduces the time spent counting all ballots after polling stations close.

Senate Election Legislation Committee Chairman James Gray, R-Rochester, said that change was included in another bill that the Senate will consider.

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