- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 7, 2017

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - Proposals to change New Hampshire’s voting laws, including narrowing the definition of who is eligible to vote, are facing favorable terrain this year in the Republican-controlled Legislature.

At least a dozen pieces of legislation center on ending Election Day registration, voting eligibility and giving the secretary of state more power to enforce election law. Supporters of the legislation, mainly Republicans, say the changes are necessary to ensure a fair voting process. Many of the bills are up for public hearings this week.

“I’m trying to do what a lot of my citizens are asking me to do,” said Sen. Regina Birdsell, a Republican co-sponsor of legislation that would require someone to live in the state for at least 13 days before voting.

But critics, including the American Civil Liberties Union and League of Women Voters, allege the changes will restrict the rights of certain people to vote. The New Hampshire Campaign for Voting Rights called the bills a “ploy to disengage voters from the political system.”

Past Democratic governors have vetoed similar restrictions, but new Republican Gov. Chris Sununu has said he’s open to changing the laws. He alleged during the campaign that voter fraud exists in New Hampshire, mimicking claims by Republican President Donald Trump, but the state attorney general’s office has said there is no evidence of widespread fraud.

A key debate centers on the definitions of “domicile” and “residency,” two words used in New Hampshire’s election laws.

Current law says someone can vote if they consider New Hampshire their domicile, defined as the place where someone intends to maintain a “single continuous presence for domestic, social and civil purposes.” Some lawmakers say the language is too vague, and some of the bills move to specify it by using factors like whether someone has a driver’s license to prove that they live here.

Critics of such a change worry it would prevent college students, who may have a driver’s license in their home state, from voting in New Hampshire. The New Hampshire Campaign for Voting Rights said lawmakers should instead focus on creating an online voter registration system and providing more funding to the attorney general’s office to better handle election law complaints.

Republican Rep. David Bates, the prime sponsor of many of the bills, said his goal isn’t to prevent certain groups of people from voting. Instead, he said, it’s to ensure an equitable system.

“It’s a complete absurdity that you don’t have to be a resident of New Hampshire to vote here,” he said.

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