The New Hampshire primary Tuesday will be the first serious test of the state’s unusual voter ID law. It’s not likely to keep large numbers of votes from the polls, but how things play out could offer warning signs for November, when the impact may well be larger.
The Republican-backed law was passed in 2012 — part of a wave of restrictive voting laws passed by the GOP in states across the nation that session — and it was in effect for that year’s election. As voter ID laws go, it’s not all that strict. Voters are asked to show one of several forms of ID, including a college ID card. If they don’t have it, they can sign an affidavit and their vote will be counted.
Last year it was modified so that those without ID will also have their pictures taken by poll workers. That addition will be in effect for the first time in a federal election Tuesday. A card will then be sent to their home address to confirm their identity, and if they don’t respond, a fraud investigation will begin. It’s the only requirement of its kind in the nation.
That has some voting rights advocates concerned that some voters could be deterred or offended by the rigmarole.
“Having a polling official take your photo can be intimidating,” said Devon Chaffee, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire. “To some, it might seem like you’re having your mug shot taken with all of your community looking on. “
Chaffee said there’s also concern that the photo requirement could lead to longer wait times at the polls, if it gums up the works.
Still there are reasons to expect the impact will be more limited than ID requirements in other states. New Hampshire political experts say the number of voters without ID is likely to be very low: The state is among the nation’s whitest and richest — two qualities associated with high ID ownership. And primaries tend to attract more engaged voters, who are more likely to have ID than those who vote less frequently.
Campaigning in New Hampshire last month, Republican front-runner Donald Trump sought to make an issue of voter fraud.
"Voter fraud, look. You have to have real security with the voting system. This voting system is out of control," Trump said. "You have people, in my opinion, that are voting many, many times. They don't want security, they don't want cards."
In fact, there have been vanishingly few cases of voter fraud in the state of the kind that the ID law was designed to stop. That’s one reason Chaffee and others question the value of the law.
“It’s not clear what, if anything, this requirement is doing to increase the integrity of New Hampshire election,” Chaffee said. “Why are we adding this additional burden to local poll workers that cuold potentially intimidate some voters?”