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Republicans who control both houses of the state legislature and the governor’s office in New Hampshire are maintaining the state’s strict limitations on registering to vote and casting ballots while enacting new security requirements and penalties advocates see as an attempt to criminalize people who mistakenly fail to follow rules that were unnecessary in the first place.

Drop boxes for returning absentee ballots have been banned ahead of this year’s midterm elections, and next year a controversial new law will take effect with additional requirements for presenting ID at the polls and a criminal penalty for those who don’t.

Drop boxes were used in a limited way for the first time two years ago as the number of New Hampshire voters casting absentee ballots rose from 10% in the 2016 presidential election to 32% in 2020 under emergency rules that allowed anyone to request them due to COVID-19 fears. 

“[Drop boxes] were terminated when the emergency order was terminated,” said Liz Tentarelli, president of the League of Women Voters of New Hampshire. 

Fear of exposure to COVID-19 can still be used this year as an excuse for requesting an absentee ballot. But it could be confusing for some as there will not be a specific section on applications where requesters can check off a box indicating COVID-19 as their reason for requesting an absentee ballot.

“We still are allowing greater absentee voting … because we are interpreting disability to cover both COVID-19 and fear of COVID-19,” Tentarelli said. 

Advocates challenge new voter ID law

In June, Gov. Chris Sununu signed into law a new voter ID measure, SB 418, despite critics contending it will cause confusion and uncertainty about official election results. 

Those who register to vote for the first time on Election Day and do not have valid identification at their polling places are required to submit provisional ballots, which can be subject to removal from official tallies if they do not mail in proof of their identity within seven days of the election.

If the voter fails to do so, the votes are discarded from the official election results and their names may be referred to the attorney general’s office for investigation.

The bill does not go into effect until 2023, and voting rights groups 603 Forward and Open Democracy Action sued after it was signed into law. The ACLU of New Hampshire filed a separate lawsuit. Both are pending.

About this series

This project looks at the state of voting access, voting rights and inequities in political representation in all 50 states and Washington, D.C.

“There was enough, even Republicans, who were doubting that this was a good bill, that they changed the date of the bill and made it go into effect next year so they have time to try to work on some of the objections to it,” said Tentarelli. 

She said the passage of the bill reflects a larger pattern of suspicion about voter residency and voter ID despite the fact that we have very few examples in New Hampshire of voter fraud.

Limits on registration and casting ballots

New Hampshire does not offer online voter registration and requires most voters to register in person.

Only registrants with an approved excuse, such as a physical disability or observance of a religious commitment, may register by mail.

New Hampshire does not offer early in-person voting. 

On Election Day, in-person voters who do not have an acceptable form of identification can vote by signing an affidavit affirming their identity. But a new state law calls for a photograph of them to be taken at the polls and attached to the affidavit.

Absentee voting is available to registered voters who cannot vote in person due to disability, military service, employment and religious commitments or temporary absence. Applications are available online and can be returned to a town clerk. Clerks must receive the absentee ballot by 5 p.m. on Election Day for the vote to be officially counted.

New Hampshire ranks near the bottom of U.S. states on a range of policies that disproportionately make it more difficult to vote for lower-income and citizens of color who have less flexible work schedules and more limited access to transportation. They include the state’s ban on early voting, limits on who can use absentee ballots and the requirement that citizens register to vote in person at a local government office.

Republicans have also used unfounded claims of voter fraud (including former President Donald Trump’s false assertion in 2016 that thousands of Massachusetts residents were bused in to vote illegally in New Hampshire) to put up targeted barriers to voting for college students in the state, who are perceived as more likely to support Democrats.

A 2019 law that would have effectively banned out-of-state students attending college in New Hampshire from establishing residency temporarily was struck down in court, but related legislation requiring people who register to vote to obtain a New Hampshire driver’s license within 60 days withstood a challenge

Access for disabled, incarcerated voters

Two successful pieces of legislation sponsored by Democrats have widened access to voting and registration for some of the state’s most marginalized.

In 2021, a bill was signed into law amending the absentee voter application process to make it clear that people who are in jail awaiting trial or on a misdemeanor conviction are eligible for absentee voting.

And earlier this year, New Hampshire’s legislature passed a law requiring voter registration education and assistance for students who have an individual education program or special accommodations due to disability.

GOP gerrymandering vetoed

The Republican majority in New Hampshire’s state legislature used the once-a-decade, Census-driven redistricting process to draw new lines that would make it far more likely that a Republican could win at least one of two congressional seats that have both been held by Democrats since 2016.

Sununu vetoed the proposal, and in May, the state’s supreme court released its own version drawn by a special master after he and the legislature were unable to settle on new lines. Ultimately, the district boundaries changed little from what had been in place for the previous decade.

A previous Sununu veto killed bipartisan legislation in 2019 that would have established an independent redistricting commission that voting rights advocates said would have protected against partisan-driven gerrymandering.

“It was going to make things more public,” said Tentarelli.

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Peter Winslow is a Chicago-based freelance journalist. He recently graduated from Northwestern University’s...