Four years ago, we said of Senate Bill 3, the 2017 effort to suppress the vote of college students, among others, that it was “ill-conceived, both in intent and process, and would serve only to intimidate and disenfranchise those unsure of their voting status. Basically, the law does nothing to tighten the state’s same-day registration process that [Gov. Chris] Sununu claims is problematic. It allows voters without proof of residency to cast ballots, just as they now can. But it does threaten them with being tracked down by the police and facing a $5,000 civil fine if elections officials think they didn’t comply with the residency requirements. Given that many of the students from out of state who attend college here — the core targets of the bill — are probably unsure of their voting rights and the state’s procedures, the prospect of a police visit and $5,000 fine could easily dissuade many from even bothering to exercise this basic civil right.”
We are not legal scholars, but it was apparent from the start the legislation was intentionally difficult to read, filled with threats of extreme penalties, and aimed directly at those who would be least likely to understand their voting rights under state law.
So we’ll take no bows that the N.H. Supreme Court, in a 4-0 ruling issued July 2 — Chief Justice Gordon MacDonald abstained, since as the state’s attorney general, he argued the case for the state before the court — said exactly that in overturning the law on constitutional grounds.
“SB3 must be stricken in its entirety,” the court ruled, saying it “imposes unreasonable hurdles on the right to vote” and “that the State failed to carry its burden to demonstrate that SB 3 is substantially related to an important governmental objective.”
That’s about as complete a judicial smackdown as can be handed down. It says not only does the law significantly harm potential voters, but it does so without remotely achieving its supposed goal of “tightening” the state’s voting process.
The idea that the state’s same-day voter registration process “could” leave our elections open to voter fraud has always been a laughable one. To believe that enough people would be willing to risk years in prison, each casting a single vote, to swing an election is ridiculous. Yet it’s persisted among conservatives since the state’s political makeup started shifting from deep red to purple.
Sununu has been one of its prime advocates. As a candidate, he told a Boston radio station it was common knowledge that busloads of Bay Staters would regularly travel to New Hampshire to cast illegal votes on election days, a claim he quickly retreated from once Secretary of State Bill Gardner called it nonsense. Sununu nevertheless has continued to insist our state’s voting laws need “securing” — GOP-speak for “protecting from liberal voters.”
Those are voters such as the thousands of college students who live here at least nine months a year, but who come from other states. They tend to vote more for Democrats, and so have been targeted by Republican lawmakers for decades. You might recall Sununu famously saying, “I will never do anything to suppress the student vote,” before doing exactly that by signing House Bill 1264 in 2018. What went unsaid at the time was that he had already done far worse in signing SB3 the previous year.
Now that that law has been undone in a ruling that, we hope, is clear enough to dissuade lawmakers from attempting the same ploy — of creating an indecipherable, ominous-sounding barrier to keep eligible voters from registering — perhaps the state can move onto efforts that might really secure its elections.
Those efforts would include allowing local elections officials to conduct audits of machine-counted ballots, and mandating those machines be updated/replaced in a timely fashion. Because while it’s ludicrous to worry about individuals falsely registering to cast single votes in an attempt to change election results, it’s not so far-fetched to envision someone gaining control of electronic voting lists or ballot results to change a large swath of results.
Frightening eligible voters away from the polls is not “securing” our elections. It goes against everything our Constitution stands for.
Just ask the N.H. Supreme Court.