- Associated Press - Friday, April 28, 2017

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - Every Election Day, Chrissy Simonds makes the rounds to homeless shelters and transitional housing in Manchester urging people to vote.

Simonds, who was once homeless, often faces skepticism from people who tell her their vote doesn’t matter. Still, she presses on. In November, she convinced seven people to vote - a record, if small.

But Simonds and other advocates fear a bill in the New Hampshire legislature will create further barriers to voting for a population that already feels marginalized. The Republican-authored bill adds new requirements for anyone who registers within 30 days of an election to provide documentation, such as a lease or a driver’s license, to show where they live and that they plan to stay there.

For people without a fixed address, such documents may not exist or be difficult to access.

“If you want people to vote, why would you make things more difficult?” said Simonds, who lacked a valid ID or a bill in her name when she fled an abusive relationship years ago with her young son in tow. She now leases an apartment in Manchester.

“Folks who are on the streets, folks who are in the shelters, they simply don’t have the types of documentation that this bill would require,” said Cathy Kuhn, director of the New Hampshire Coalition to End Homelessness. “It could have huge repercussions on their ability to vote and their ability to even feel like they can vote.”

It’s impossible to know how many homeless people vote in New Hampshire. But a 2016 report from the coalition estimates more than 1,300 people were without a home.

The bill is working its way through the GOP-controlled Legislature, and Republican Gov. Chris Sununu will likely sign it.

It spells out 10 forms of acceptable proof someone registering shortly before or on Election Day could bring, including a state-issued ID, residency at a local college, a deed or long-term lease or evidence of enrolling a child in local schools. Proof that a person has arranged a local homeless shelter to receive their mail also counts. It’s intended to stop people living here for temporary purposes, such as campaign work, from voting.

Republican Sen. Regina Birdsell, the bill’s sponsor, said it will not stop homeless people from voting. The registration form provides a section people can initial to say they have no evidence verifying where they live - and that they understand local officials may try to reach them by mail or take “other actions” to verify their address. No voters, homeless or otherwise, who lack proof on Election Day will be barred from voting, but they could later face an investigation or a fine of up to $5,000.

If passed, the law will face a near certain court challenge. Democrats and other opponents say the form amounts to a literacy test and could intimidate voters who don’t have the necessary documents. They argue the form could confuse voters and election officials alike.

Birdsell said it’s “disheartening” to hear suggestions that the legislation will bar the homeless, students or the military. “I hope it doesn’t discourage anyone from voting,” she said.

Already some voters say they face challenges. Jessica Gagnon, who lives in a Manchester shelter with her three children and fiancé, said she was turned away from voting in November because she didn’t have a photo ID - something that shouldn’t happen. New Hampshire has a law that says anyone without an ID can sign an affidavit and have their picture taken. Gagnon said she wasn’t given that option.

Jim Crawford, a friend of Simonds who was formerly homeless, said when people already are living in stressful situations, thinking about gathering documents to bring to the polls may be a deterrent.

“It becomes a barrier because it’s something in your psyche that says I don’t need this other thorn bush in my way, I’m out of here,” he said.

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