CONCORD, N.H. — Gov. John Lynch vetoed a bill Monday that requires voters to show photo identification to vote in New Hampshire.
“An eligible voter who goes to the polls to vote on Election Day should be able to have his or her vote count on Election Day. [The bill] creates a real risk that New Hampshire voters will be denied their right to vote,” Lynch said in his veto message.
Lynch noted that voter turnout in New Hampshire is among the highest in the country. The Democratic governor discounted Republicans claims that requiring a photo ID would reduce fraud.
“There is no voter fraud problem in New Hampshire,” he wrote. “We already have strong election laws that are effective in regulating our elections.”
Lynch vetoed a similar bill in 2006, a veto that was sustained. Though Republicans hold a supermajority in the House and Senate, the bill did not pass by the two-thirds majority needed in the Senate to assure supporters can override the veto. A vote to override it isn’t expected until this fall.
Under the bill, people without acceptable identification can cast provisional ballots. For the vote to be counted, they must return by noon on the Friday after the Tuesday election with a government-issued photo identification.
Voters also could get a waiver from the photo identification requirement from the Secretary of State or request and receive a voucher to cover the cost of getting photo identification from the state Department of Motor Vehicles. They also can sign an affidavit claiming a religious exemption to having their photograph taken.
Lynch said those provisions would present hurdles to senior citizens, students, people who are disabled or do not drive and anyone who does not already have a state-issued or federally issued photo ID. He said they may not be able to obtain one in the limited time allowed by the bill.
“Many town offices are closed or have only limited hours on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, when those voters who received a provisional ballot would be expected to return to produce a photo ID and have their vote counted,” he said. “Voters in areas of the state where [motor vehicle] offices have been consolidated will also be disadvantaged.”
He said that would present real hardships for some voters.
Lynch noted that the New Hampshire City and Town Clerks Association, AARP, the League of Women Voters and the secretary of state opposed provisions of the bill.
“The bill’s provisions for the length of time to produce a valid photo ID after an election and the types of photo IDs allowed are among the most restrictive vote identification provisions in the nation despite any evidence that current law is insufficient protection against voter fraud,” Lynch wrote.
He said if the bill became law, New Hampshire would have a different and more lenient standard to register to vote than to actually cast a ballot. Currently, people who register before Election Day can sign an affidavit in lieu of producing a photo ID. When a photo ID is used to register, the local clerk can accept identification that is not government-issued.
Lynch said the bill would allow a state trooper to use an agency-issued ID because it was issued by the state. The same would not be true of a local police officer presenting a town-issued photo ID at the polls. Similarly, someone could use a Massachusetts or Maine driver’s license as a valid ID, but not a municipal ID issued by a town, he said.
“Creating a two-tiered system of photo IDs for registering and voting makes no sense,” he said. “It will only cause confusion and frustration at the polls that is bound to result in preventing some voters from casting their vote on Election Day.”
Lynch also pointed out there is no provision guaranteeing confidentiality for those casting a provisional ballot as there is for casting absentee ballots.
Finally, he said the delay in counting provisional ballots would jeopardize the state’s ability to conclude its September primary election with enough time to prepare and send general election ballots to the military and other overseas voters in compliance with federal law.
Kevin Smith, executive director of Cornerstone Action, criticized Lynch for vetoing what he called a common-sense bill. He said Lynch was pandering to extremists in his party.
“Hopefully, the Republican-controlled legislature will do the right thing here and once again override this poor decision by the governor,” he said.
Republican House Speaker William O’Brien said it’s disappointing that “Lynch has chosen against making sure our elections are as pure as possible and free of corruption.”
“Today, our citizens have to show a valid ID to get on a plane, on a bus, to pick up a package and to enter a federal building. It certainly is not a major imposition to ask for a driver’s license or other ID in order to protect the integrity of voting,” O’Brien said.
But voting rights groups hailed the veto and urged lawmakers to sustain it.
“The sponsors of [the bill] do a terrible disservice to our citizens and our state’s reputation by falsely claiming this legislation is needed to protect our elections,” said Joan Flood Ashwell of the New Hampshire League of Women Voters.
The Legislature in neighboring Maine considered a similar bill but set it aside for next year’s session.