High court strikes down NH GOP-led voting law

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Jul. 2—CONCORD — The state's highest court struck down as unconstitutional the signature 2017 law the Republican-led Legislature wrote and Gov. Chris Sununu signed to tighten laws linking voting to domicile in New Hampshire.

In a unanimous, 4-0 decision, the justices on Friday agreed with a lower-court ruling that the law known as SB 3 violates Part 1, Article 11 of the state Constitution that holds everyone, 18 or older, "shall have an equal right to vote in any election."

"We conclude that SB 3 imposes unreasonable burdens on the right to vote," wrote Associate Justice Patrick Donovan, a Sununu-appointed judge to the high court who grew up in the governor's hometown of Salem.

In a statement, Sununu defended the law he had championed and urged lawmakers to work on a permanent fix to this ruling.

"It's disappointing that these common sense reforms were not supported by our Supreme Court, but we have to respect their decision, and I encourage the Legislature to take the court's opinion into account and continue working to make common sense reforms to ensure the integrity of New Hampshire's elections," Sununu said.

The governor has often said New Hampshire is one of a few states in the country where non-residents are allowed to vote.

House Speaker Sherman Packard, R-Londonderry, vowed to keep pushing for voter registration reforms.

"While this outcome is not ideal, it does give the Legislature a renewed sense of purpose as we work together to ensure New Hampshire's elections remain fair with open transparency," Packard said in a statement.

"We will continue working on legislation reforms to strengthen and uphold the integrity of our elections."

The League of Women Voters and the New Hampshire Democratic Party had challenged the law, contending it was targeted at suppressing the vote from out-of-state college students, new residents to the state, senior citizens and the disabled.

Voting rights advocates praised the court's ruling.

"It doesn't matter how old you are, our color, background or zip code, in America we value our freedom to vote without discrimination and without intimidation. Despite a constant onslaught on our democracy from Republicans in Concord, the Supreme Court protected our freedom to vote at this crossroads in our history," said Lucas Meyer of Manchester, 503 Forward chairman and another plaintiff in the lawsuit.

Came after Trump claimed 'widespread fraud' in N.H.

Sununu signed this law during his first year in office after an election in which former President Donald Trump charged there was "widespread" voter fraud in the 2016 election that caused him to lose the state narrowly to Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Both Secretary of State Bill Gardner and Sununu said there wasn't widespread fraud in that election.

State prosecutors have brought cases against a few voters charged with voting in New Hampshire and another states in 2016.

SB3 required would-be voters to provide documents proving residency in New Hampshire. The bill's supporters argued the measure promotes confidence in the state's elections by assuring only people who live here vote here.

The law created of a new set of forms required to be filled out by those registering to vote within 30 days of an election or on the day of an election but do not present a photo ID or other documentation to prove they are residents of the state

Those who didn't have documentation with them such as an ID or a utility bill had to present them to local election officials within up to 30 days after an election.

Voters who failed to turn in those papers could face penalties.

Superior Court Judge David Anderson ruled last year, however, that the confusion created by the forms created an unconstitutional burden on voters who try to use them, and would burden all voters by creating long lines at polling places.

Even earlier in October 2018, a second, Hillsborough County Superior Court judge had blocked the state from implementing SB3 as the legal challenge progressed.

In the injunction, now-retired Judge Kenneth Brown had written there was little evidence of low confidence in the integrity of New Hampshire's election system — and no evidence this new law would help.

"The state presented no evidence that the new domicile affidavit has had any impact on the public's perception of the election process," he wrote.

A separate lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union and the New Hampshire Democratic Party challenged a second voter registration law (HB 1264) in 2018 that removes the phrase "for the indefinite future" from the definition of residency or "principal place of physical presence."

In 2020, those citizens who brought the lawsuit dropped it. Sununu celebrated the decision, which put all the legal focus on this lawsuit the high court decided on Friday.


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