The Hillsborough Superior Court upheld Senate Bill 3 (SB 3) while issuing a temporary restraining order for penalties included in the voting rights law.
In the ruling, Presiding Justice Charles S. Temple did not block the controversial legislation from taking effect on primary day. Temple added that while the court has “serious concerns regarding other parts of SB 3,” it recognized that the law is “entitled a presumption of constitutionality.”
The legislation directly affects same-day voting registration. Voters are required to fill out a registration form, provide a New Hampshire driver’s license or non-driver’s license identification and ask for proof of domicile. If a voter doesn’t provide proof of domicile, they are allowed to vote but must return a copy of proof that they live in New Hampshire within 10 days by mail.
Supporters of SB 3 argue the law ensures the integrity of the electoral system in New Hampshire by addressing voter fraud and requiring voters to prove that they live in the state. Meanwhile, opponents have said the bill makes it more difficult to vote, tagging the bill as an act of voter suppression that would adversely affect students and voters who move frequently.
The legislation passed the Executive Council in March along party lines and was signed into law by Governor Chris Sununu on July 10. The New Hampshire Democratic Party filed a lawsuit against the law soon after.
The penalties associated with SB 3 came under significant scrutiny, as well.
The proposed punishments for fraud in the legislation included up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine. While supporters stated it would ensure the proper information was provided to election officials, detractors labelled it a form of voter intimidation, which was reiterated in the court’s decision.
“The State’s argument at the hearing today—that these harsh penalties would be saved by prosecutorial discretion— was unconvincing to say the least,” Temple wrote. “The average voter seeking to register for the first time very well may decide that casting a vote is not worth a possible $5,000 fine, a year in jail, or throwing himself/herself at the mercy of the prosecutor’s ‘discretion.’”
Reactions poured in from the involved parties after the ruling was handed down this morning.
Governor Sununu gave a brief statement to NHPR’s The Exchange, saying: “We’re pleased the major provisions of the law are being allowed to go into effect.”
On the other side of the aisle, New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley issued a press release commending the decision. Buckley said vacating the penalties associated with SB 3 is an indication the full law will ultimately be ruled unconstitutional.
“This order is a victory for voting rights in New Hampshire,” Buckley wrote. “The court’s decision to strip the law of its penalties shows exactly how burdensome and intimidating they are. It proves the state cannot threaten people with criminal prosecution for merely registering to vote.”
The New Hampshire Republican Party cheered the decision on Tuesday, asserting Democrats were “grasping for technicalities to claim victory.” The Republicans chided the Democrats for “cherry picking a liberal judge” before urging them to “drop this frivolous attack against voting integrity.”
Kristen Clarke, Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, voiced her approval of the court’s decision online.
“[New Hampshire] court strikes down odious parts of voter suppression law SB3 that threatened voters [with] civil and criminal penalties,” Clarke tweeted.
Giles Bissonnette, Legal Director for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Hampshire, expressed satisfaction with the temporary decision as well.
“Only portion of SB3 ruled upon — the penalties — deemed a severe infringement on right to vote. The rest reserved for later. A clear win,” Bissonnette tweeted.
The ruling came just hours before President Donald Trump’s “Election Integrity” commission headed by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach arrived in Concord. The intent of Kobach’s visit is to listen to presentations from advocates for stricter voting restrictions and search for evidence of the instances of voter fraud claimed by Trump.