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NH Supreme Court Stays Voter Registration Injunction; Democrats Disappointed

Four days after NH Hillsborough County Superior Court Judge Kenneth C. Brown granted an injunction to plaintiffs’ claims a one-year-old state voter registration law was unconstitutional and unduly burdened voter registration, the NH Supreme Court unanimously stayed that injunction.

Judge Brown’s October 21 decision in League of Women Voters, et al. v. William Gardner, et al. effectively nullified Senate Bill 3 (SB3), which was signed into law last year and designed to curb voter fraud. He then directed the Secretary of State William Gardner to conduct November’s upcoming election according to November 2016 procedures. The state’s elections are handled by the Secretary of State’s office.

In granting the injunction October 22, Judge Brown claimed the state had not shown voter fraud would be curtailed by enforcing SB3. The law, which required new registrants to present, or promise to present within 30 days after the election, various documents proving their residency or “domicile” status, was also deemed by Judge Brown to be too cumbersome, with confusing language on the registration forms. The result, he said, would be long lines at the polls that might disenfranchise voters.

But on October 26, lawyers representing the Secretary of State’s office filed an emergency motion with the state’s highest court for the stay, arguing that Brown’s injunction was issued too close to the election and left town election officials confused. The Supreme Court agreed.

“However, the court is persuaded that, regardless of the merits, the timing of the preliminary injunction, entered by the trial court a mere two weeks before the November 6 election, creates both a substantial risk of confusion and disruption of the orderly conduct of the election, and the prospect that similarly situated voters may be subjected to differing voter registration and voting procedures in the same election cycle,” the Supreme Court wrote.

Ray Buckley, chairman of the NH Democratic Party, which, along with the League Of Women Voters petitioned the lower court for the injunction to halt SB3, said in a statement released after the stay was issued that  SB3 was “unconstitutional.” 

“Today’s ruling is a setback for New Hampshire’s electoral integrity, but it also highlights just how important it is for all eligible Granite State voters to make their voices heard on Election Day. We will have resources in the field to assist any voters confused by this unconstitutional law,” Buckley wrote.

According to the Union Leader, House Republican Majority Whip Rep. Kathleen Hoezel “welcomed” the decision but was concerned about the future of SB3.

“I’m glad the Supreme Court has resolved this matter for the time being, however, the lower court’s order and the publicity it has caused has now created questions in the minds of the public,” Hoelzel told the Union Leader.

“The bill is supposed to protect the integrity of the elections and now we have people questioning why the judges are involved in making the laws and creating confusion at the last minute,” said Hoelzel.

The Union Leader also said that if “people trying to register don’t have the right documents, they have up to 30 days to produce them or face penalties for voter fraud including a fine up to $5,000 and a year in jail.”

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