Bill Allowing No-excuse Absentee Voting in NH is Approved by Senate and House

On Thursday, May 30th, the New Hampshire Senate voted 13 – 11 to pass HB611 which would allow any voter who wishes, to cast his or her ballot by mail.  Under current law, voters may only cast absentee ballots if they will be absent from the town or city where they live on election day, have a disability that prevents them from going to the polls, or have conflicts due to religious commitments, employment, the uncompensated care of children or infirm adults, or due to severe weather warnings.  The bill now heads to the Governor’s desk for his signature of approval — or veto.

Passage of this bill will significantly impact the volume of absentee ballots that will need to be processed by NH election officials.  During the 2016 State General Election, for example, 3,499 absentee ballots were cast in the City of Nashua.  It would not be unreasonable to assume that this number could double for the 2020 State General Election if HB611 becomes law.  However, supporters of the bill believe that a vote-by-mail option for all qualified voters in NH will increase involvement in the political process.

In a statement released following the Senate’s approval of this bill, the prime sponsor, Rep. Katherine Rogers of Concord, stated “It is time that we join the majority of states in America and increase access to the ballot box by allowing no-excuse absentee balloting….Allowing all eligible voters to access absentee ballots is not only fair, it ultimately increases involvement in the democratic process.”

Sometimes a Bill’s Title Does Not Reflect What the Bill Actually Would Do

During the the March 14th House Session, Representatives approved HB 198, “repealing the prohibition on texting while driving” by a vote of 252 – 73.  Why would so many Legislators approve such a bill?  What the bill actually did was repeal one provision in state law, which only referred to texting (RSA 265:105-a) and reinforced a newer, more comprehensive section of state law (RSA 265-79-c), commonly known as the hands-free law.  And it increased penalties: for a first or second offense, the penalty would be $250 – $1000 (not $100), then not less than $500 for any subsequent offense.  Further, the Director of the Division of Motor Vehicles would be able to suspend a driver’s license for 10 days for a second offense and for not less than 10 days for any subsequent offense.  So while the bill’s title suggests that the prohibition against texting while driving was being repealed, the bill was actually strengthening enforcement and penalties for the hands-free law.  The bill will now go to the Senate for consideration and if it passes, it will go to the Governor for his signature or veto.

Key Education Bills Receive Initial House Approval

The NH House of Representatives, today, approved HB 564, relative to possession of firearms in safe school zones, which would incorporate the Federal Gun Free Schools Act into New Hampshire law.  The final roll call vote to pass the bill with an amendment was 194 – 154 in favor of the legislation.  This is position that I supported during my campaign for State Representative, and I was very pleased to have the opportunity to cast my vote in favor of this legislation.

HB 551, establishing an independent school funding commission, was approved 207 – 148.  Supporters of the bill argued that the legislature has not adequately addressed the directives of the original Claremont court ruling on how to fund public schools and that an independent commission could provide a more comprehensive review.  HB 184, to include full-day kindergarten students in the adequacy formula, passed on a roll call vote, 203 – 148.  Funds currently provided to support kindergarten are conditional on Keno revenues, and those revenues are falling behind initial projections and have been insufficient to fund full-day kindergarten.  HB 177, which would stop the continued reduction of stabilization grants was approved on a 268 – 90 roll call vote.  In 2017, a change to state law would wipe out the stabilization grants over 25 years by reducing payments to school districts by 4% each year.  Many school districts across the state rely on the stabilization grant to make up for some of the inadequacies in the education funding model.

There were a number of very important bills approved by the House today.  Tomorrow is the last day to act on bills that need to be referred to a second house committee.  Over the next few days, I will provide highlights of other bills that were — or will be — acted upon by the House this week.

How to Check Your Voter Registration or Absentee Ballot Request Status

The NH Secretary of State provides an online tool that allows NH residents the opportunity to see if they are registered to vote, to determine what their political party affiliation is, and — if they applied for an absentee ballot – what the status of that process is. In addition, the site provides links to contact information for your city or town clerk and identifies the location for your polling place. If you want to verify your voter registration status, go to: https://app.sos.nh.gov/Public/PartyInfo.aspx