DURHAM, NH — Today, New Hampshire will require voters to bring a photo ID to the ballot box for the first time in its history. Those who don’t have an ID can ask the poll workers to vouch for them, but if they don’t personally know the voter, he or she will have to sign a “challenged voter” affidavit and allow poll workers to take a Polaroid picture of them.
Voting rights advocates say they’re worried this gives individual poll workers leeway to discriminate, and that it could cause delays and long lines at the polls if the half-million expected voters turn up at the polls. Others fear the new Polaroid photo provision will feel like a “mug shot.”
“I think it’s unnecessary and a form of voter intimidation, especially for people my age who aren’t totally sure of their voting rights,” Chelsea Krimme, a junior at the University of New Hampshire, told ThinkProgress. “They could get scared away from wanting to vote, both this year and in the future.”
This will be New Hampshire’s hundredth year of hosting the country’s first presidential primary, but it may be among the most complicated.
Krimme, an environmental sustainability major, has been tabling and phone-banking across campus to educate students about the voting process. She says she is concerned about the level of confusion she’s witnessed among her peers.
“A lot of students think they’re required to bring an ID when they’re not. They don’t know about being able to sign the affidavit,” she said. “And about half the out-of-state students I’ve talked to think they can’t vote in New Hampshire, when they can. It’s sad, because are so many important issues right now, from student debt to climate change, that students care about and they want to have a voice.”
Like Iowa and 10 other states, New Hampshire allows residents to register to vote on election day, a policy that can boost turnout as much as 14 points. And unlike many states that have passed voter ID laws over the last few years, New Hampshire allows college students to use their school IDs to vote.
Yet local voting rights groups, including the League of Women Voters, the Citizens’ Alliance, and the ACLU, say the current voting laws could prove a barrier to many New Hampshire residents, who already have to show an ID and proof of residence to register to vote.
“This wastes of resources while creating additional obstacles to the ballot box,” said Gilles Bissonnette, the Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire. “In the northern part of the state, it’s not like there’s a DMV on every corner, and there isn’t good public transit for people who don’t drive to be able to go get an ID. I think it’s fair to assume that the trends that exist in other states will show up here, with the poor, the elderly, and those from more rural areas being hit hardest by this voter ID law.”
The most common form of ID used to vote is a drivers license. Yet the state has only 15 DMVs to serve 1.3 million residents. Some are only open a few days a week and none with weekend or evening hours, making it even more difficult for working New Hampshire voters to obtain an ID.
Bissonnette said he also fears poll workers have not been uniformly trained on how to implement the new camera law. Any mistakes could lead to delays and long lines, especially in the state’s larger cities. Other voting rights advocates echoed his concerns, saying that it will be impossible to know many people were improperly turned away or discouraged from even attempting to vote because of uncertainty around the new law.
“It’s especially ridiculous, because we have not any demonstrated incidents of in-person voter fraud occurring,” said Bissonnette. “We should be making it easier to vote, not harder.”
A study released last week found that voter ID laws have been especially effective in suppressing the votes of people of color. Researchers found a strict ID law could be expected to depress Latino turnout by 9.3 points, Black turnout by 8.6 points, and Asian American turnout by 12.5 points. The laws studied did not have the affidavit provision New Hampshire provides. But data from the Granite State in 2012, when the voter ID was only partially implemented, found that wait times to vote increased by 50 percent.
Joan Flood Ashwell, the election law specialist with the non-partisan League of Women Voters of New Hampshire, told ThinkProgress she’s also worried about New Hampshire’s older population, the homeless, people with disabilities, and immigrants.
“It’s not racial like it is in other states, but they’ve identified different targets here,” she said. “The homeless don’t tend to have documents or ID. How can they prove their address when they live on the streets? By voting they’re trying to be a part of normal society and this says to them, ‘We don’t want you here.'”
Ashwell, who lives in Durham near New Hampshire’s seacoast, said she’s also seen a lot of frustration among elderly people, who may have given up driving and don’t have passports. “When they first implemented the law in 2012, I was monitoring the polls and I saw an older man yelling at the poll worker for demanding an ID from his wife, who had never driven a car,” she said. “They felt humiliated that the town she’d lived in forever wouldn’t just let her vote. And that was before they implemented the Polaroid photo provision. How are they going to feel now?”
Voting rights groups have set up a hotline New Hampshire voters can call if they are confused or improperly turned away from the polls. They will also have teams of volunteers monitoring polling sites across the state to watch for problems. As they mobilize to deal with current voting laws, they are also sounding the alarm about bills introduced in the state legislature that they say would make it even harder for students and low-income residents to vote.
A bill in the state legislature would change the definition of residency and the definition of a “domicile” that can be used to register to vote in a way that excludes student dorms. The bill says that anyone living in New Hampshire for “temporary purposes only, without the intention of making it his or her home” will not be able to vote. Though the word “student” appears nowhere in the text of the bill, state officials have said openly that they would prefer New Hampshire students not be able to vote, because they tend to vote for Democrats.
New Hampshire’s former House Speaker Bill O’Brien (R), who now serves as co-chair for the campaign of Sen. Ted Cruz, said when advocating for the voter ID law that he was concerned about “the kids coming out of the schools and basically doing what I did when I was a kid, which is voting as a liberal.”
Ashwell told ThinkProgress that if this attitude persists, New Hampshire no longer deserves its coveted first-in-the-nation primary spot.
“These laws are trying to skew the election,” she said. “When you place limits like this, you end up with results that do not represent the electorate. Why should we be first in the nation if we’re working so hard to keep people from voting?”