New Hampshire's Controversial Voting Registration Law Upheld

By Lisa M. Schaffer, Esq. on October 30, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Midterm elections are heating up, absentee ballots are pouring in, and constitutional voting cases are on the docket. Is it the most wonderful time of the year or what?! Meanwhile, in New Hampshire, controversy stemming from a 2017 voting registration law recently came to a head.

SB3, a Republican-backed law, requires new registrants to present, or promise to present within 30 days after the election, documents proving residency status. Though the rule has been in effect for over a year, Democrats waited until the eleventh hour to challenge its constitutionality, claiming it could disenfranchise voters, especially students, the poor, and those that would be turned away by long lines at the polls.

Plaintiffs felt the new law would not curtail voter fraud. They asked the lower court to dismiss the new law and revert back to 2016 voter guidelines. The lower court agreed with plaintiffs and granted an injunction, and the defense appealed, filing an emergency motion to stay the lower court's order. Within four days, the New Hampshire Supreme Court unanimously stayed the injunction. Thus, the New Hampshire midterms will conduct voting according to SB3.

Lower Court Ordered Stayed, but the Fight May Not Be Over

Other takeaways from the ruling include rationale and penalties. The New Hampshire Supreme Court stated that they were not necessarily ruling the case on the merits of SB3, but rather on the disruption, confusion, and unfairness that would result from reverting back to 2016 rules just two weeks from the November 6th election. They believe all voters in a voting cycle should be treated similarly. In a sign that Democrats will probably look to repeal this law soon after elections, Ray Buckley, chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, said "Today's ruling is a setback for New Hampshire's electoral integrity, but it also highlights just how important it is for all eligible Granite State voters to make their voices heard on Election Day. We will have resources in the field to assist any voters confused by this unconstitutional law."

Regarding penalties, the lower court's granted an injunction against the civil and criminal penalties invoked by SB3 for voting and then failing to produce proper documentation within 30 days. The New Hampshire Supreme Court enjoined the injunction of those penalties. Originally the penalty was a fine of up to $5,000 and a year in jail. Instead, it appears, the vote will just not count.

Check with your state regarding current voter registration rules and deadlines. Some states even allow residents to register and cast ballots during early voting or on Election Day, so it may not be too late! If you believe your voting rights are being violated, contact a local civil rights attorney. The right to vote is one of the most important rights in our country, and it's one of the key reasons America is one of the world's greatest countries in which to live.

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