As I turned on to North Main St. in Concord, I knew something big was going on. It was the last day of voting in the legislature, and the place was packed with representatives hoping to override the governor’s vetoes on a number of bills. With two of the nearby parking garages under construction, parking near the state house has become more competitive than usual. The meter readers were out in full force. If everyone did their job with the zeal of Concord meter readers, the world would be a different place. One of my co-workers was ticketed before her meter expired, because she’d recently had a lot of tickets. It was a preemptive ticketing.
That wasn’t the only preemptive action in Concord this year. A number of voting bills went before the legislature this year, and two survived till the bitter end – they were vetoed by Governor Lynch, and the vetoes were not overturned. The stated intent of both bills was verifying voter eligibility and preventing abuses. After every election, there are investigations of voter fraud. The 2004 elections were no exception. The Secretary of State’s office found that there had been no fraud. NH doesn’t have voter fraud, but some members of the legislature feel a need to continually file preemptive legislation to cure a problem that we don’t have. My job provides me with frequent opportunities to speak with folks from all over the state. People tell me about the things that worry them – usually health care, housing, and wages. Not a single person has told me that their number one concern was voter fraud.
One bill (HB345) would require voters to show photo ID before voting. Those in favor of this legislation say that we have to show photo ID to get on airplanes or cash checks. That makes it sound almost logical – except that flying and banking are both customer situations. We do not (as yet – and don’t rule it out) pay to vote. The people who look at those customer IDs are employees – paid by the airport or the bank. The people who would be checking IDs at the polls are volunteers. Should volunteers have to be trained in verifying photo ID? If they are to become experts in reading ID, where will they be trained and who will pick up the tab? How will voting absentee be handled? Who will be checking the absentee ID? Will nursing home residents be forced to pay for ID they no longer need, so that they can vote? What about same day registration? Over 2000 people registered to vote in Carroll County on Election Day in 2004. They signed a domicile affidavit at the polls. Will we do away with same day registration? What if those people have moved to NH fairly recently, and their photo ID address isn’t the same as their real address? Will we refuse to allow them to vote? How will we handle the bottleneck at the polls, when the line halts while the volunteer expert reads the ID and determines its validity? There are a lot of questions that are never answered by those who favor the preemptive voting legislation.
The second bill, HB 1566 would require photo ID to match physical address, and give the voter 40 days to make the changes. The aim is to force college students (long suspected of infiltrating the state to vote here, thereby ensuring the Democratic dictatorship we see in the NH House and Senate) to have cars registered and licenses changed over in order to vote in NH. It would require anyone with a NH license to change their address within 40 days of a move. This legislation was not proposed by anyone who has recently attempted to interact with the NH DMV. This bill would essentially nullify the domicile affidavits that are traditionally used on Election Day.
The supporters of preemptive voting legislation couch this in the most reasonable terms. Representative Mike Whalley, Chair of the House Election Law Committee said that the committee wanted to tighten up record keeping and weed out illegal voting. Except there isn’t any illegal voting, according to the Secretary of State’s office. Whalley said that this bill would not be a deterrent to voting. That’s a little hard to believe. We have no documented voter fraud – yet we have legislation that’s guaranteed to make for longer lines, inconvenience, and voter disenfranchisement. We know it isn’t necessary – so of course it’s intended as a deterrent! There isn’t any other reason for it.
NH Senator Andre Martel filed similar Senate bills aimed at requiring voter ID and disenfranchising student voters. In 2004, Martel came disconcertingly close to losing his election. Rather than assess his own performance as a state senator, and try to determine why the voters weren’t happy with him, Senator Martel chose to blame students. There are several colleges in his senate district. Incumbents in the NH legislature often feel a sense of entitlement when it comes to their seats. Senator Martel leans very far to the right, at a time when voter demographics in our state are shifting. The voters in his district may feel that he isn’t representing them, and choose to vote him out, as is certainly their right. To blame his near ouster on students is both silly, and lazy.
Silly and lazy sums up the whole package of this year’s voter reform bills. Filing a number of time consuming bills aimed at fixing a nonexistent problem doesn’t seem to be the best use of legislative time. We have a number of serious, well documented problems that need legislative attention. Has history taught us nothing about the folly of the pre-emptive strike?
“Preemptive war punishes the defenseless not for what they have done or are doing but for what they might have done or could do.” Eduardo Galeano