Political News

Judge allows new voter law to go forward, blocks penalties

Posted September 12

— A state judge on Tuesday allowed for a new law to take effect that requires voters who move to New Hampshire within 30 days of an election to provide proof that they intend to stay, but he blocked penalties of a $5,000 fine and a year in jail for fraud.

Judge Charles Temple in Nashua upheld the law just in time for the use of new voting forms in a special state representative election in Belknap County on Tuesday. He said another hearing is needed for both sides to further explain their case, given that he had just heard abbreviated arguments and "rushed offers of proof" on Monday.

The New Hampshire Democratic Party and the League of Women Voters challenged the law, which Republican Gov. Chris Sununu signed in July. They said it presents confusing, unnecessary and intimidating hurdles to voting. They called it unconstitutional and wanted to stop it from taking effect. The state requested that the lawsuits be dismissed.

Temple allowed the law to go forward but called the penalties severe restrictions on the right to vote.

"There are simply too many unanswered questions at this stage in the litigation," he wrote. "For instance, what if a same-day voter has the required documents at home, swears he/she will provide them, but the voter then cannot get them to the clerk's office in time for one reason or another?" He said the voter could be fined or jailed for failing simply failing to return paperwork.

"This order is a victory for voting rights in New Hampshire," state Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley said in a statement, adding that the party will keep fighting against the law in court.

Earlier this year, President Donald Trump alleged widespread voter fraud in New Hampshire, though there's been no evidence to support that. Democrats challenged the measure during legislative debate, but Republicans, who control it, contended existing state laws create the potential for fraud.

Republican state Sen. Regina Birdsell of Hampstead, chairwoman of the Senate Election Law and Internal Affairs Committee, said she is satisfied with the preliminary outcome of the ruling.

"This is just the first step in what we anticipate will be a lengthy process," she said. "I continue to believe this law will be upheld and will serve to protect the integrity of New Hampshire's elections now and in the future."

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