MANCHESTER, N.H. — Secretary of State William Gardner favors requiring photo identification of people seeking to vote and said more could be done to keep voter lists updated.
He stands with those who were happy Gov. John Lynch vetoed a voter ID bill last year but who still believe the system needs improvement.
“Everyone could do a better job dealing” with updating voter lists of people who move or die, Gardner said last week. Those names will “get purged eventually.”
Gardner said 179,362 names — or about 1 in 5 registered voters — were dropped from voter checklists between April 1 and Aug. 1 of last year because people didn’t vote in any election during the previous four years.
The state Attorney General’s Office last week said it had begun a comprehensive review of state voting procedures because people obtained ballots of dead people at polling places during last week’s presidential primary voting. A video posted on the Internet showed nine instances in which clerks, including at least one in Manchester, handed over ballots after a would-be voter implied he was the city resident. Although listed on the voter checklist, the name given by the scam artist was that of a recently deceased person.
Gardner said he favored requiring voters to show a photo ID to obtain a ballot or have their photo taken at the polling place in an effort to deter potential voter fraud. A legislative committee last fall derailed the bill, recommending it for further study.
“Someone’s going to be less likely to commit voter fraud” if the potential offender has his or her picture taken at a polling place before receiving a ballot, Gardner said.
He opposed last year’s voter ID bill because it called on voters who didn’t produce identification to cast provisional ballots to be kept separate from the main batch of ballots for three days. Only ballots cast by those who returned by the deadline with a photo ID would be counted.
“Our constitution says you have an election and you stay there until the polls close and you have counted the votes,” Gardner said. “It doesn’t say you can wait three days until all the votes are counted.”
Gardner had estimated that more than 50,000 voters do not have a photo ID.
Rep. Kathleen Hoelzel, R-Raymond, a sponsor of the bill that Gardner backed, said she thinks the video might spur new attempts to strengthen the state’s election laws.
“I’ve already had people call me, ‘Please pass something,’” Hoelzel said.
Lynch didn’t rule out another attempt at crafting a compromise with lawmakers in order to write a new bill, according to Colin Manning, Lynch’s press secretary.
“The governor would consider a voter ID bill, and any change to our system would have to ensure every eligible person’s right to vote,” Manning said. “Governor Lynch also believes we should continue to look at how we improve our system, including how we can continue to coordinate vital records and voter registration information.”
Another opponent of last year’s voter ID bill, Fred Kocher, the statewide president of New Hampshire AARP, said he thinks the video will amplify the call for changing election laws.
“You can’t have fraudulent voting,” Kocher said. “You have to deal with it. That is something the Legislature is going to have to address.”
He hoped voting rolls could be more easily updated.
“Between elections, I would think there’s got to be a way in terms of a database in order to calculate who has passed away or who has moved and is no longer eligible to be on the list,” Kocher said. “It’s not going to be perfect. It never is, but I think it would cut down on fraud.”
AARP opposed last year’s bill because requiring a photo ID would be burdensome to seniors who no longer have a driver’s license. “They would be eliminated from being able to vote,” Kocher said.
But others who opposed a voter ID bill last year say leave well enough alone.
Joan Flood Ashwell, election law specialist with the League of Women Voters of New Hampshire, said it’s unlikely an average New Hampshire resident would read an obituary and “then go and commit a felony,” and risk fines and jail time.
“What, to steal one vote?” she said. “It’s absurd.”
Ashwell said laws should set up barriers preventing people from voting.
“We’re always looking at election laws to see if they work or don’t work, but this video doesn’t prove anything about our election laws,” she said.
Gardner said local elections “must keep an up-to-date checklist,” adding that election officials work diligently to update them until early January.