Friday September 14, 2012

Recently there has been a good deal of misleading commentary indicating that New Hampshire law has changed significantly with respect to a citizen's right to vote. This commentary is understandable but highly confusing. It is understandable because the New Hampshire legislature has indeed imposed requirements for elections held in 2013 and afterwards. But it misleads by suggesting that voters must present valid photo identification in the upcoming 2012 elections. Regardless of what you may have heard, you do not need a photo ID to vote this November

Here are the basic facts about the new law. Every New Hampshire citizen 18 or older -- including college students living here -- has a constitutional right to vote in the Granite State. This right is unaffected by the new law. Also, the new law has no effect on the right to register to vote on Election Day. In 2012, voters will be asked but not required to present valid photo identification in order to register or vote. Instead, voters still have three options to register and vote in the upcoming elections.

First, voters may present valid photo identification to register and vote. Valid photo identification includes any state driver's license regardless of the expiration date; a valid student identification card; a New Hampshire non-driver's photo identification card; a U.S. armed services identification card; a U.S. passport regardless of expiration date; a valid government photo identification; or any other photo identification deemed acceptable by city or town officials. Also, city or town officials may verify a person's identify even without photo identification.

Second, persons without valid photo identification may register and obtain a ballot by simply signing affidavits attesting to identity, age, citizenship, and domicile in New Hampshire. That's it. Voters who use affidavits to register and to vote will receive a letter from the Secretary of State after the election requesting confirmation that they voted and explaining how to obtain a free voter photo identification. Those who do not respond to the letter within 90 days will receive a similar letter from the Attorney General. But there is no penalty for voters who do not respond to these letters.

Third, voters eligible to vote by absentee ballot may still obtain such a ballot from their city or town clerk prior to Election Day. Absentee ballots must be returned to the clerk by 5 p.m. on Nov. 6 in order to be counted. Voting by absentee ballot does not require voter identification.

New Hampshire citizens should understand that the new voter identification law in no way affects their eligibility to vote. Nor does it even require photo identification for the 2012 election. Americans have the responsibility and privilege of choosing our elected federal and state representatives. That tradition continues this November, so get out there and vote.

John Greabe is a Professor of Law at the University of New Hampshire School of Law.