A House Divided on Voter ID
Republicans say holes in the state voter system were exposed by Tuesday's video sting; Dems say the GOP is manufacturing a non-existent problem.
Democratic state Rep. David Cote of Nashua said the undercover Election Day sting involving several Nashua polls, where conservative activists attempted to obtain ballots of voters recently deceased just to make a point, is "disgusting."
Republican Rep. Shawn Jasper of Hudson said the means justify the end, which in his estimation, was a public service.
Either way, emotions on both sides of the Voter ID issue are running high, following the volatile video footage released yesterday by Project Veritas founder James O'Keefe.
"Voter fraud doesn't run rampant in New Hampshire, and if you called the Secretary of State and asked that question, he'll tell you that; he's told the Election Law committee that several times. The fact of the matter is, there's no basis for the belief that there's this rampant ID fraud problem," Cote said.
Furthermore, said Cote, it reinforces the pattern being seen in various other states, where Republican legislators are introducing bills that, in his opinion, are meant to simply make it as difficult as possible for people to exercise their right to vote.
Cote serves on the House Election Law Committee and said he does not support the need for photo ID.
However, he believes the bi-partisan committee tasked with hammering out an amendment to the Voter ID legislation vetoed in June by Democractic Gov. John Lynch, did their due diligence.
"That was a good piece of legislation and I don't think it was necessary to spike it," Cote said.
On that point, at least, he and Jasper agree.
"We set it up so that, if it had passed, everybody would've had three opportunities to vote before the next presidential election," Jasper said.
Which brings Jasper back to the crux of the matter, for him, which is that New Hampshire needs to stop making it so easy for people to just walk into a polling place, give their name, and vote.
"Right from top, I say this: People with bad intent will be able to commit voter fraud. We need some standards to prevent that, knowing someone may come in with an illegal ID at any given polling place," Jasper said.
Rep. Kathleen Hoelzel, R-Raymond, who served as vice chairwoman of the Election Law subcommittee and also is town moderator in Raymond, said under the current system there is too much room for fraud.
"If voters had to show identification at the polls, that would just be one more check," Hoelzel said. "You have to show ID when you pick up your pills at the pharmacy when they have narcotics in them; you can't get on an airplane without showing your ID; there are doctor's offices that make you show ID, and hospitals – it just makes voting process cleaner and purer. Everybody in New Hampshire wants to say there's no voter fraud, but voter fraud is just as easy in New Hampshire as it is anywhere."
As the video exposé circulated online, a flurry of statements came from both state Republican and Democratic parties, as well as the League of Women Voters, and House Speaker William O'Brien, R-Mont Vernon.
From the state Democrats:
"There has been no history of voter fraud in the state of New Hampshire – that is until Tuesday when GOP operatives manufactured it solely to gin up support for a discriminatory voter ID law. Their actions broke the law in order to make a false claim for the need for unnecessary legislation. They should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law – something that those involved with Tuesday's actions have experienced before. The fact is voter ID laws are costly and burdensome to the state. More importantly, they unfairly disenfranchise select communities who are legally entitled to vote."
And from the state Republicans:
"Over the four years that Democrats ruled the legislature, they passed laws that intentionally weakened the electoral system on the general theory that the more votes, the better, without regard to who is casting those votes, and whether they were even legal. The lax attitude that they brought, plus their steadfast opposition to any requirement that we should know who is actually voting through photo ID laws, is what has resulted in an environment where the blatant voter fraud outlined in this video can easily take place."
Also weighing in was Joan Flood Ashwell, Election Law Specialist for the League of Women Voters, who is urging the state Attorney General to prosecute the "out-of-state con artists" who they maintain committed "serious fraud.
Ashwell's statement reads, in part:
"The League of Women Voters supports the integrity of elections and trusts in the competence of our local election officials. The fraud shown on the video was carefully manufactured to make it appear that New Hampshire doesn’t have a system of checks and balances in place to protect our votes. That is not the case. The only thing this video shows is that those with time, resources and criminal intent and with no respect for the fundamental laws of our nation can sometimes deceive our neighbors who work as election officials. There is no reason to believe that New Hampshire citizens engage in such un-American behavior. The League extends its sympathy to the families of the recently deceased whose names were used so callously."
And an excerpt from a joint statement issued by House Speaker William O’Brien and Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt, R-Salem, reads:
“This video has placed a shocking exclamation point on the need for immediate reform to New Hampshire’s election laws to ensure that voter fraud does not taint the rights of our citizens to have their votes counted in an honest, responsible way and impact our state. The nation has been horrified by the absurd level of ease of voting illegally here, and we should all be embarrassed that the state has not moved more quickly to fix a gaping hole in our laws."
Jasper, Hoelzel and Cote all agree that at the time their amended bill was shot down by subcommittee chairman David Bates and the rest of the committee, no explicit reason was stated. All three said they were frustrated by the process, including the haste with which the vote was posted, and the fact that several sitting members were unable to be present for the vote.
"The chair of the committee never said what his issues were, although we eventually found out that if he doesn't actually like the 14 different forms of ID that you can use to get your driver's license in New Hampshire. Problem being this committee wasn't sent off to change the motor vehicle laws," Jasper said. "The chairman thought it was too loose, but we can't set up two different classes of people – 90-95 percent of voters would use a driver's license as ID."
Ultimately there were two things Bates said that dumbfounded Jasper enough to abandon hope that the amended legislation would live to see another session.
"He said that simply registering to vote does not give you the right to vote; and people who don't have drivers licenses can be held to a higher standard of proof than those who do have them," Jasper said. "Good lord – I can't comprehend how anyone in his position can say something like that."
While two new bills are in the works and the issue will be revisited in the upcoming legislative session, Jasper said it's likely too late to do anything that will effectively correct the problem that prompted the undercover video in the first place, prior to the November Presidential election.
If anything will change the way New Hampshire residents vote, it won't be anything that goes into effect before 2014, Jasper said.
"While it can be addressed before November, I don't think it will; there's not enough time for the necessary public education component," Jasper said. "And quite frankly, I don't think they could come up with any better way than what we had in HB 356. We really should've passed it."