N.H. Senate Passes Bill to Allow Electronic Poll Book Pilot, Rejects Online Voter Registration

The vote followed continued debate on election law changes, with legislators taking measured steps to modernize state statutes.

by Dan Tuohy, The New Hampshire Union Leader / March 13, 2017

(TNS) — CONCORD — The Senate passed a bill to allow towns and cities to participate in an electronic poll book trial program, but rejected a proposal for New Hampshire to join 38 other states with online voter registration.

The votes Thursday followed continued debate on election law changes, with legislators taking measured steps to modernize state statutes.

A number of communities, including Manchester, have expressed interest in use of an electronic poll book and devices for voter registration rolls and check-in.

The trial program must be compliant with existing law, from voter checklists to delivery of data to the Secretary of State in a way that is compatible with the statewide centralized voter registration database.

Towns and cities participating in the trial program must ensure adequate back-up systems and bear all costs associated with electronic poll books. The programs must meet certification standards established by the state.

State lawmakers are considering a host of other proposed changes in election law this spring, including modifying the definition of “domicile” with the intent that qualified voters have an “intent to stay” in the state when they cast a ballot here.

Preserving the integrity of voting in the first-in-the-nation state is a priority for Republicans and Democrats alike, but the parties disagree on proposed reforms.

The idea of online voter registration emerged an a next-generation measure for Democrats. Sen. Bette Lasky, D-Nashua, the prime sponsor of the bill, said the goal is to move the state’s process into the 21st century.

Lasky said that online registration would spur voter participation, reduce lines on election day and help local election officials.

Senators opposing online registration noted that the states using similar systems are “motor voter” states, at odds with New Hampshire’s same-day registration law established two decades ago.

It is also a significant information technology project, said Sen. Regina Birdsell, R-Hampstead. “They just don’t have the bandwidth to do it,” she said.

Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, countered that the state can tap its Help America Vote Act account to fund the modernization. “We do everything these days online,” he said.

The bill proposed requiring voters registering online to have an identification issued by the New Hampshire Department of Safety, Division of Motor Vehicles.

Thirty-four states and the District of Columbia offer online voter registration, and four others have passed legislation to create a system but have yet to implement it, the National Conference of State Legislatures reports.

“While no fraud or security breaches are known to date, security for online voter registration is an essential element of system design,” according to the NCSL review.

Massachusetts enacted online voter registration in 2014, where a voter can register online if they have a signature on file at the Registry of Motor Vehicles.

Arizona was one of the earliest states to pursue online voter registration back in 2002. Vermont’s Secretary of State launched online voter registration in 2015.

In other business Thursday, the Senate took votes to:

• Appropriate $5 million for an affordable housing fund to provide low-interest loans and grants to build, rehabilitate and buy affordable housing. “This is a jobs bill,” said Sen. Dan Feltes, D-Concord, the sponsor of the legislation. The fund was first established in 1988.

• Pass a bill to expand the veterans plates program to allow Purple Heart recipients to get a Purple Heart plate for free.

©2017 The New Hampshire Union Leader (Manchester, N.H.), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.