New Hampshire delegation defends voting rights legislation

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Members of New Hampshire’s congressional delegation are defending their support of sweeping legislation to overhaul U.S. elections against criticism from Secretary of State Bill Gardner.

Gardner, who has built a reputation for fiercely defending New Hampshire’s position at the front of the presidential primary, was first elected by the Legislature in 1976 and has been reelected every two years since.

But he barely survived a challenge in 2018 and has faced criticism in recent years from fellow Democrats for participating in former President Donald Trump’s commission on voter integrity and for supporting GOP-backed legislation they view as voter suppression.

On Thursday, he issued a statement comparing the federal legislation to a visit House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s made to his office in 1983 in an effort to dislodge New Hampshire from its first-in-the-nation spot.

“That visit was exactly 200 years to the month after the people of New Hampshire approved their constitution on October 31, 1783,” he said. “Now, Speaker Pelosi is once again attacking our state by using federal authority through H.R. 1 by rendering articles of our own state constitution null and void.”

The House-passed bill, and a similar version in the Senate, would strike down hurdles to voting, require more disclosure from political donors, restrict partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts and bolster election security and ethics laws.

Democrats newly in control of both chambers of Congress say they are trying to rebuild trust in the ballot, while Republicans charge the bill would strip power from the states and cement an unfair political advantage for Democrats.

Gardner said provisions related to early voting over multiple days, the receipt and counting of ballots after the election and no-excuse absentee voting would violate New Hampshire’s constitution, which requires that a voter be present to vote unless absent from the city or town or physically disabled.

He also said the federal legislation is at odds with the state constitution’s requirement that election results be publicly declared in each community on the night of the election.

“This egregious over-reach of federal authority that flagrantly ignores or diminishes the provisions of our state constitution is wrong. The simplicity of New Hampshire elections will be gone,” he said. “New Hampshire has a solid track record for running sound and trouble free elections that do not warrant this type of federal meddling.”

The state’s four members of Congress, all Democrats, say the legislation will deliver much-needed campaign finance and ethics reform while expanding voting rights.

“I am committed to strengthening our democratic processes, and the For the People Act is an important vehicle to limit the influence of special interests in politics and bolster widely-supported voting protections,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.

Sen. Maggie Hassan called the current campaign finance system “deeply destructive” and said the legislation “takes long overdue steps to root out dark money in politics, take on corruption, and ensure that the government works on behalf of Granite Staters, not corporate special interests.”

Rep. Annie Kuster and Chris Pappas, who both voted for the House version in March, agreed.

“I was proud to support this legislation which is broadly supported by Republicans, Democrats, and Independents across our country,” said Kuster. “Elected officials everywhere should be working to make it easier for Americans to exercise their right to vote, not harder.”

Pappas likewise said the bill will crack down on corruption and make it easier to vote.

“Democracy in New Hampshire and across the country is made stronger when everyone can participate,” he said. “The For The People Act will do that by elevating to the national level many of the lessons and best practices we’ve used here in New Hampshire for years.”