The bills were as ambitious as they were short-lived. Two Republican attempts to overhaul who gets to vote in party primaries — and who gets to run — suffered major setbacks last week when the House Electoral Legislation Committee voted to recommend they not go ahead.
A bill, House Bill 101, would have required all voters in New Hampshire to register with a political party four months before the September state primary. This bill, which would have eliminated “open primaries” and ended New Hampshire’s tradition of unaffiliated voters entering a party’s primary and then registering as undeclared, was recommended by a 19-0 vote as “inconvenient for the legislature.” With this recommendation, it will probably be killed on the floor of the house.
MP Ross Berry, a Manchester Republican and vice-chair of the committee, argued that the bill would remove the ability for parties to choose whether to restrict their primary elections. Under current law, political parties can do so as long as they notify the Office of the Secretary of State.
The other, House Bill 116, received an extension. The bill would have significantly raised the eligibility requirements for lead candidates to run in primary elections; For example, candidates for governor or US Senate would have to raise $10,000 or collect 25,000 signatures, as opposed to the current requirements of $100 or 200 signatures. After bipartisan concerns that the new thresholds were too high, the committee voted to keep the bill in place for its sponsor to work on in the spring and summer and resubmit in the future.
The measures took the steam out of two bills that would likely have sparked heated debates even in the Republican-led legislature. But Republicans are proposing a number of other bills this year that could sway voters in the election.
One, House Bill 405, would require college students in New Hampshire to receive state tuition to register to vote. The bill would require students to provide a copy of their tuition bill and require public universities and community colleges to provide the Secretary of State’s office with a list of students receiving state tuition.
This bill would require college students to follow different residency rules than other New Hampshire residents; Currently, all residents can vote as long as they reside in the state on Election Day and intend to remain residents for the foreseeable future. However, students must be residents of the state of New Hampshire for 12 consecutive months before qualifying for state tuition.
Another bill, House Bill 460, would require people registering to vote to prove their U.S. citizenship by producing either a birth certificate, passport, naturalization papers, or “any other appropriate document showing.” shows that the applicant is a US citizen”.
Sponsored by Rep. Bob Lynn, a Windham Republican and former chief justice of the state Supreme Court, HB 460 would also require voters to invariably identify themselves in order to vote, eliminating current laws that require it allow voters to sign an affidavit if they do not have identification on election day.
House Bill 496 would require two election observers – one from each party – to accompany a parish or town clerk to a nursing home or facility for the elderly to deliver and collect absentee ballots.
“Postal observers must ensure that the process of receiving, marking, and returning postal ballots is conducted fairly, confidentially, and properly,” the bill says. Any activity “that appears to be inconsistent with state law” would have to be reported to the Secretary of State.
The bill provides for city or county party officials to appoint election observers.
And Senate Bill 156 would make various changes to the registration process, allowing the Secretary of State to require registrants to provide voluntary email addresses, phone numbers, social media accounts, employer names, Social Security numbers, or addresses of friends and family to contact after the election .
Some Republican ballots appear to have been written in response to recent electoral developments in New Hampshire. House Bill 452 would ban poll workers from folding absentee ballots and prevent the behavior that emerged as a major contributor to problems in the 2020 Windham election. After a series of recounts over the past year that determined control of the New Hampshire House and a series of challenges over hard-to-read ballots, House Bill 495 would give voters more explicit instructions on how to pick ballots correctly.
Others have bipartisan support, including House Bill 333, which would advance the date of the state primary; Senate Bill 157, which would mandate post-election audits of a certain percentage of AccuVote machines; and Senate Bill 158, which would allow city and borough clerks to open the envelopes containing mailed-in ballot applications — but not the ballots themselves — before Election Day, giving them a chance to spot errors in the application before Election Day and contact applicants correct in time.
For their part, Democrats have introduced bills seeking to reverse some of the electoral law changes that Republicans have made over the past five years. House Bill 502 is an attempt to repeal a law passed last year that required voters to send paperwork to the Secretary of State’s office within seven days of Election Day if they failed to produce the paperwork in the election – or had their ballots disqualified will. And House Bill 40 would reverse amendments passed in 2017 that made voting an act of declaration of residency and eliminated a separate status that allowed college students to vote while on temporary residency.
But Democrats also have their own suggestions for overhauling the vote. Some will push for ranking voting, a process in which voters rank their choices for each position and use that ranking to allocate secondary votes to give a candidate a majority.
Another bill, House Bill 586, would expand who can vote by absentee ballot to include those concerned about safety driving to the polls and those who don’t have access to transportation. House Bill 508 would require absentee ballots to be delivered to voters with postage prepaid.
And two bills — House Bill 447 and Senate Bill 73 — would give cities and counties access to grants to buy voting equipment for the election.
Despite the size of both parties’ proposals, some in the State House say observers shouldn’t expect big changes this year — especially compared to previous years.
“Nothing is passed from the (house) electoral law with consequences,” Berry said in an interview on Friday, citing the closely divided House. “Last year it was a great committee to watch; this year it will be a slumber party.”
This story was originally published by New Hampshire Bulletin.