QUESTION: What will cost New Hampshire taxpayers $108,670 during the next two years to address a problem that does not exist?
ANSWER: Senate Bill 129, the so-called Voter I.D. bill, which mandates that every voter in the state show photo identification before casting a ballot. The mandate is flawed, because some photo-IDs are deemed okay to use whereas others, such as photo IDs that are provided by town and city employers, are not necessarily okay. Also, the bill doesn’t guarantee secrecy for the provisional ballots that would be required of those voters who must scurry off to get acceptable photo IDs on election day.
However, these are piddling matters compared to the justification for the bill, and here we leave it to D.J. Bettencourt, the House Majority Leader, to argue the case. In a news release issued shortly after Governor John Lynch vetoed Senate Bill 129 this week, Bettencourt wrote:
“It is mystifying to me why the governor of New Hampshire, elected to uphold our Constitution, would oppose legislation that would put an end to allegations of voter fraud that surface after every single election in our state.”
Allegations of fraud? How about actual fraud? Perceptions are important, but in the legislative arena they ought to be based on something material, such as, in this case, specific instances of wrongdoing at polling places. The Secretary of State’s office — which is responsible for elections — and the League of Women Voters — which has a respected tradition in voter education — say they know of no voter fraud in New Hampshire; both say the bill is wrongheaded.
Nevertheless, legislative leaders, apparently gripped by nationwide Republican enthusiasm for voter ID, insist that the integrity of New Hampshire elections is in peril. Here’s how House Speaker Bill O’Brien put it after the Lynch veto: “It’s very disappointing that Governor Lynch has chosen against making sure that our elections are as pure as possible and free of corruption.”
This is not O’Brien’s first pass on the elections process. Last winter he complained about student voters, who he said tend to vote liberal, and said Keene and other college communities “have lost the ability to govern themselves” because of them.
Research by this newspaper found no wave of student voters inundating Keene city elections. Mayor Dale Pregent, offended by O’Brien’s dour characterization of the city’s governance, asked for an apology. He’s received no response.
Back to Senate Bill 129. In the absence of documented irregularities at the polls, and given that as many as 70,000 legitimate voters (such as senior citizens without drivers licenses) could be inconvenienced, and considering that the fiscal note to the bill cites compliance costs that will fall on the secretary of state and the Department of Safety, why would any legislator vote to override the governor’s veto and make this bill a state law?