By Christian Wade | The Center Square
Republican lawmakers are trying to shield New Hampshire’s election system from any changes to voting laws from pending federal legislation.
The GOP-controlled House Committee on Election Laws last week approved an amendment to a proposal to update election procedures that would effectively separate the state and county elections from the federal system, if legislation overhauling voting rules passes Congress and is signed by President Joe Biden.
The amendment’s primary sponsor, Rep. Barbara Griffin, R-Goffstown, called the pending federal bill — titled The For the People Act— a “direct assault on the state of New Hampshire and its ability to conduct elections.”
“It will have a dramatic and unconstitutional impact on our elections,” Griffin told the panel during a Wednesday hearing.
Shielding New Hampshire from the impacts of the federal voting overhaul would allow the state “to conduct elections in a manner that has produced high voter participation rates and confidence in a process they find easy to navigate,” she said.
Griffin pointed out that many provisions of the federal bill, such as expanding drop boxes for mail balloting and allowing 16-year-olds to pre-register to vote, have been rejected by New Hampshire lawmakers in the past.
The federal omnibus bill was approved in March by the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives on a 220-210 vote that went along party lines, with Republicans opposed. The bill is now pending before the Senate, where it faces pushback from the Republican minority.
The sweeping reform package includes proposals to expand voter registration, improve election integrity and security, allow expanded mail voting and tighten federal campaign finance laws.
Republicans have criticized the plan as a Democratic “power grab” that would erode states’ rights to set election laws. Democrats say the federal protections are needed with GOP lawmakers pushing “voter suppression” bills in at least 47 states.
New Hampshire’s all-Democratic congressional delegation, including Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, support the proposed federal election overhaul.
Efforts to blunt the impact of the proposed federal law on the local level have won support from New Hampshire’s top election official, Secretary of State Bill Gardner, who told a congressional committee last month the proposal would result in a federal takeover of state elections.
At last week’s hearing, Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan spoke in support of Griffin’s amendment, saying it sends a “shot across the bow” to congressional lawmakers.
“Because if S.1 passes, Congress now controls the election laws in the state of New Hampshire,” Scalan told the committee.
Democrats on the committee pushed back on those claims and criticized Gardner’s office for its public stance against the federal overhaul of elections.
Rep. Manny Espita, D-Nashua, called the GOP amendment a “political stunt” fueled by debunked claims there was voter fraud in the November 2020 presidential election.
“It’s an attempt to spread misinformation and undermine our democracy,” he told the committee. “As a young political leader … the idea of creating two voting systems is disturbing to me.”
Several Democratic leaders also testified against the amendment, defending the federal legislation and criticizing Republicans lawmakers for efforts to blunt it’s impact.
“The For the People Act is not a federal takeover,” Deborah Nelson, a Hanover Democrat, told the committee. “This amendment distorts information that’s in the federal bill, and it does everything possible to create barriers to voting when in a true democracy the right of people to exercise their vote should be of greatest importance.”