By: Samuel Holliday
On Tuesday Sep. 12, 2017, a New Hampshire Superior Court judge placed a temporary restraining order on the enforcement of penalties under the controversial voter registration law known as Senate Bill 3 pending further judicial review. The law, signed by Governor Chris Sununu (R) on July 10, 2017, provided stricter penalties ‒ a fine up to $5,000 and a jail sentence of up to a year ‒ for failure to provide documentation that supports a voter’s domicile in the state if they register within 30 days of an election. The decision was handed down on the day of the first election in the state which would have been affected by the new law, with instructions that the decision be relayed to localities holding elections.
New Hampshire is one of thirteen states and the District of Columbia to offer full Same-Day Voter Registration, which allows eligible individuals to register to vote as late as election day and still cast a vote in that election. With the exception of North Dakota, every other state requires a voter to register before an election, usually between eight and thirty days in advance.
Before passage of Senate Bill 3, same-day registrants in New Hampshire had to either show an ID which proved their domicile status or sign an affidavit and have their photo taken by poll workers. Under Senate Bill 3, a same-day registrant would have to furnish documentary evidence at the poll or sign an affidavit promising to bring the evidence to the local registrar within ten days of the election (or thirty days if the local registrar had less than twenty business hours per week). Failure to comply with this new requirement would then enable law enforcement officials or state investigators to verify domiciles in person, at which point individuals could be subject to the increased penalties.
This action by the General Court ‒ New Hampshire’s legislature ‒ came against the backdrop of the Trump Administration’s claim of alleged voter fraud in the 2016 election and quest to identify its alleged causes. Recent close losses by Republican candidates in statewide elections have only served to exacerbate these claims; President Donald Trump (R) lost New Hampshire to former-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D) by less than 3,000 votes and former-Senator Kelly Ayotte (R) lost to Senator Maggie Hassan (D) by only 743 votes. Roughly two weeks after winning the election then-President-Elect Trump tweeted out the claim that there was “Serious Voter Fraud in New Hampshire” among other states, which has been disputed by Politifact and other state officials. When the President formed his Election Integrity Commission, one of the appointees was New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner (D), who supported Senate Bill 3 despite his belief that there no “rampant” fraudulent activity in his state’s most recent elections.
The temporary restraining order did not strike down the law, but merely prevented its penalties from going into effect until a more thorough judicial review could be conducted. As of Oct. 2, 2017, the next court date for New Hampshire Democratic Party v. William M. Gardner et al. has not been set, leaving both the law and the restraining order in place.