Rollercoaster: New Hampshire Supreme Court Reinstates Voting Residency Law

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New Hampshire’s Supreme Court has reinstated a state law that requires voters to show proof of residency if they register within 30 days of an election. It capped off a hectic week of litigation where the law went from on to off to on again. New Hampshire Public Radio has more:

The voter registration law known as Senate Bill 3 will stay in place through the upcoming midterms, after the New Hampshire Supreme Court on Friday overruled a lower court’s order that would have put the law on hold.

The decision from the high court capped off a rollercoaster week for election officials in New Hampshire. On Monday, Hillsborough County Superior Court Judge Kenneth Brown ordered them to stop using Senate Bill 3 (or “SB3”) in the upcoming midterms.

By Wednesday, the state said, essentially, “Not so fast.” Arguing that it was too late to make any substantial changes to the registration process and that Brown’s instructions would burden pollworkers, state election officials asked both Brown and the New Hampshire Supreme Court for permission to keep the law in place. (The opposing attorneys challenging SB3, meanwhile, called this “a thinly-veiled attempt to create a record of difficulty and confusion where there really is none” so the state could avoid compliance with Brown’s order.)

In a hearing on Thursday, Brown shot down that request and attempted to address any lingering questions the state had about his initial order, but — in a unanimous ruling issued at 5 p.m. Friday — the New Hampshire Supreme Court took the state’s side.

The justices took no position on the merits of the underlying voter registration law at the center of the ongoing court case, but they said the state made a convincing argument that it’s too close to the election to switch out the registration rules. [Regular readers will recognize this as the “Purcell principle.” – DMCj]

The timing of Brown’s order, the justices wrote, “entered by the trial court a mere two weeks before the November 6 election, creates both a substantial risk of confusion and disruption of the orderly conduct of the election, and the prospect that similarly situated voters may be subjected to differing voter registration and voting procedures in the same election cycle.”

The justices also expressed concern over Brown’s proposal to keep SB3 in place leading up to Nov. 6 but then revert to the process used in 2016 starting on Election Day, saying that would subject voters to inconsistent registration processes depending on when they register.

After all of that, things are now back where they started a week ago: SB3 remains in effect, but the state — per a year-old court order that the high court left untouched — can’t punish anyone who lacks the right paperwork.

The battle over the long-term future of the law isn’t over, but last week’s wild ride – just like a rollercoaster, in fact, in that it ended up right where it started – will probably raise as many questions as it answered with Election Day just eight days away. Buckle in – and stay tuned …

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