New Hampshire bill targets federal voter-access legislation

May 19, 2021 GMT

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — New Hampshire’s Republican-controlled Legislature is considering a preemptive strike against sweeping election and voter-access legislation being debated in Washington, D.C.

The House Election Law Committee heard testimony Wednesday on a bill amendment that would keep New Hampshire’s election system in place for state and county races if Congress enacts the “For the People Act.” The legislation, a top priority of Democrats after the divisive 2020 election, would touch nearly every aspect of the electoral process.

The proposal is aimed at curtailing the influence of big money in politics and removing hurdles to voting with changes, such as automatic voter registration and 24-hour ballot drop boxes. But opponents argue it includes provisions that New Hampshire lawmakers and courts already have rejected and would destroy a system that works well in the state.

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“Do some people think changes can be made? Yes. Does that require upending the entire process that has been adopted and enshrined in our Constitution? No,” said Rep. Barbara Griffin, sponsor of the measure that would effectively require separate state and federal systems for voter eligibility and registration, absentee voting, in-person voting and counting of ballots.

Griffin, R-Goffstown, called the federal bill a “direct assault on the sovereignty of New Hampshire.” And Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan, speaking in support of Griffin’s amendment, called her proposal “a shot across the bow of Congress about the wisdom of passing such legislation.”

Scanlan spoke on behalf of Secretary of State Bill Gardner, who has faced harsh criticism from Democrats for supporting Republican legislation to tighten voter registration rules and for serving on former President Donald Trump’s commission on election fraud. But Scanlan rejected a Democratic lawmaker’s suggestion that speaking out against the federal legislation compromises the “nonpartisan standing and integrity” of his office.

“The climate in politics now is that there’s a great deal of polarization, and it is difficult for an office like the secretary of state to administer the elections and take positions on bad pieces of legislation when we see it and not be accused of being partisan. But if we don’t speak up, we’re not doing our job,” he said.

“There is a delicate balance we have to find between making voting easy and making sure that it’s secure enough that people have confidence that their votes are being counted, that that they’re not being diluted or that there’s other fraudulent activity taking place,” Scanlan said. “That is the perspective we are approaching this issue from. It is not a partisan position, it is one of administration.”

Democrats described the federal bill a critical reform package that will ensure elections are safe, accurate and accessible.

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“The For the People Act is essential to restoring the public’s faith in our democratic institutions and ensuring that everyone’s voice is heard,” said Rep. Manny Espitia, D-Nashua. “Today’s hearing, I’m just going to say, is a political stunt, nothing more. It spreads misinformation and undermines our democracy.”

The federal legislation has passed the House, but there is no clear path forward in the Senate, which is split 50-50. Last week, the Senate Rules Committee deadlocked over advancing it to the full Senate in its current form, leaving it to Democratic leader Chuck Schumer to try to invoke a special process to force the legislation ahead.