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Close the Domicile Loophole in New Hampshire

Editor’s Note: This op-ed submission was co-authored by Rep. Barbara Griffin (R-Goffstown), Rep. Betty Gay (R-Salem), Rep. Greg Hill (R-Northfield), Rep. Kathy Sousza (R-Manchester), Rep. Lisa Freeman (R-Manchester), Rep. Norman Silber (R-Gilford), Rep. Steve Hellwig (R-Hudson), Rep. Steve Negron (R-Nashua), Rep. Yvonne Dean-Bailey (R-Northwood), Rep. Natalie Wells (R-Warner), and Rep. Michael Harrington (R-Strafford).

For the past three election cycles, New Hampshire voters and activists have been calling for substantive election law reform that points our state in the direction of stronger ballot integrity. For too long, many people voting in our state elections have been able to register to vote and vote without proving their domicile and showing that they live in their city or ward before voting.

This is ludicrous. The majority of Granite Staters, when registering to vote, show proof of domicile. Something that shows we live where we say we live: a driver’s license, an electric bill, a rental agreement or a motor vehicle registration or another commonsense piece of evidence that proves you live where you say you do.

But many people neglect this important step and refuse to show they are domiciled here and leave, on election day, with their vote counted regardless of whether or not they actually consider the state their domicile. They sign the state domicile affidavit without showing any proof of where they live and continue on their way.

This is called the domicile loophole. This loophole leaves our elections in New Hampshire vulnerable to fraud and abuse. It might not be thousands or even hundreds of improperly cast ballots – it could just be a handful. But as we all know, dozens of New Hampshire elections are decided by just one or two votes. That’s why we must ensure that everyone who votes in our elections is domiciled in New Hampshire in the ward or town they are voting.

Now the New Hampshire legislature has a bill that will tackle the domicile loophole and will finally close this kink in our election laws. This bill is Senate Bill 3 and it is coming up for a vote in the House of Representatives on June 1st

Under Senate Bill 3, if someone registers to vote on the same day of the election without proof of their domicile they are then required to return to the Town Clerk’s office within a period of 10 or 30 days (depending on the town clerk hours) to return with their proof of domicile. Currently, we let those who do not show proof of domicile slide by the wayside by signing an affidavit. The state never follows up and voters are able to cast their ballot without proving that they live here. That is unacceptable – and conservatives, moderates and even liberals should agree.  Election integrity is important and our elections should always be taken seriously.

Under Senate Bill 3, those who do not return to the clerk’s office with the proper proof of domicile will have their domicile verified through a series of municipal level inquiries and rising to investigations through the Attorney General’s office if the issue is not resolved at a lower level. After passing SB3, illegal voters will think twice before voting in New Hampshire.

This shift of responsibility in proving one’s domicile back onto the voter is powerful. When Senate Bill 3 passes, the Attorney General’s will no longer be bogged down by the thousands of letters being returned to their office. Instead, they’ll be able focus on only the serious cases and investigations that could not be resolved by the supervisors of the checklist, municipal designees or the Secretary of State’s office. With the coordination of municipal and state officials, we will finally have a system of dealing with improper voting and registration concerns.

Conservative opposition says this legislation doesn’t go far enough. We’ll be the first to admit – there are other areas in which we can improve our election laws. Whether it’s the voter registration process or the identification used to obtain a ballot – we can make some changes.

But Senate Bill 3 is a unique piece of legislation with a specific goal: to close the domicile loophole.

If you care about election integrity and closing the domicile loophole, please reach out to your State Representatives. The vote on June 1st will be close and the liberal opposition to this bill will have a strong grassroots showing. We need to ensure our message is conveyed with an equal fortitude.

Senate Bill 3 as a good and important first step. I hope we can count on our legislators to put politics and personalities aside to support ballot integrity and close the domicile loophole.

GOP Infighting Continues: NH House Freedom Caucus to Start PAC

The budget battle is over between House Republican leadership and conservative members in the New Hampshire State House for now, but the political divide between the two factions continues to grow. The NH House Freedom Caucus announced plans Wednesday to start its own political action committee, signaling that the fight for control of the chamber is far from over.

The House Freedom Caucus, a 32-member group taking its name after a similar conservative coalition of Republicans in Congress, is pushing back against House Speaker Shawn Jasper in the next election. They are planning on using money from the PAC to support candidates who believe in “limited government and personal liberty.” The PAC will be chaired by Rep. Dan Hynes, R-Merrimack.

“Last year, Speaker Jasper utilized his PAC to target conservative Republican members in primaries,” said Rep. J.R. Hoell, R-Dunbarton, one of the leaders of the conservative group. “The NH Freedom Caucus PAC will help to protect those members and candidates who stand on principle and refuse to be dominated by a big government House leadership.”

Jasper says he has no plans to target conservative members. In 2016, his leadership PAC helped out some Republicans, but left others to fend for themselves. The main NH House GOP PAC also said it plans on supporting all Republican candidates.

Members of the House Freedom Caucus are not convinced.

“For many individuals who might consider running to serve in the House, they need to know that there will be help if they don’t immediately pay allegiance to a Speaker that is working to rapidly grow government, whether through his vote on Medicaid expansion or on budgets with 10.5 percent spending hikes,” said Rep. Greg Hill, R-Northfield, a member of the caucus.

Conservatives haven’t been supportive of Jasper in the role as speaker for a while. He won the speaker’s post in 2014 with an overwhelming majority of support coming from Democrats. Only a few dozen Republicans voted for him over former House Speaker and conservative firebrand Bill O’Brien.

In the last session, he was heavily criticized by conservatives for supporting a reauthorization of Medicaid expansion and working with Democrats to get it passed.

He also barely won the speakership in 2016 over Rep. Laurie Sanborn, R-Bedford, and a leader of the other conservative House Republican Alliance (HRA) caucus. He defeated her by a five-vote margin, 109-104, on the second ballot in December. Jasper assured lawmakers that he would unify the caucus in time to get legislation passed. That doesn’t seem to be the case so far.

The first test of the legislative session was right-to-work. Conservatives overwhelmingly supported the bill, but moderate Republicans and members of the House Republican leadership weren’t sold on it, due to their ties to unions or people they know in them. Despite the bill passing in the Senate, it failed in the House and people blamed Jasper for not trying hard enough to get it passed. The vote revealed a splintered Republican majority in the House.

The second battle between conservatives and Jasper was over the budget. Members of the House Freedom Caucus did not support the budget that came out of the House Finance Committee earlier this month. They didn’t like that spending increased over former Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan’s budgets and that the budget lacked tax cuts.

They banded together to vote against the budget until their demands were met. Democrats were already voting against the budget to defy the Republican majority in the House from passing a budget. Conservatives essentially joined them to derail budget negotiations. What resulted was a chaotic two days and the House, for the first time since at least 1969 when they started keeping records of it, failed to pass a budget to the Senate.

Jasper didn’t mince words when he called out the House Freedom Caucus for voting against the budget.

“This is just a movement of people who, I think, are totally disconnected from their constituents and totally disconnected from the facts,” he told reporters after the vote.

It’s important to note that members of the HRA also voted against the budget and led to its defeat. Jasper took aim at their group last week, with leaders of the HRA claiming they have been denied the right to meet in the State House as punishment for their budget opposition.

Three co-chairs of the HRA received a letter stating that their “activities in the State House Complex are hereby suspended” because the organization failed to produce bylaws.

Jasper said he came to his decision on the belief that the HRA has turned into a lobbying group instead of a conservative caucus of Republican representatives, whose membership might extend to people who are not elected officials.

“Once again Speaker Jasper looks to silence the conservative caucus of the State House,” the HRA co-chairs said in a statement. “The Speaker is pathetically trying to provide himself with political cover after failing to pass a budget, something that hasn’t happened in New Hampshire since 1969.”

This was another reason the House Freedom Caucus decided to create a PAC. They don’t believe Jasper is going to spend the funds to help conservatives get elected to the House.

“Based on his recent actions of maligning conservatives in the press and banning conservative House groups from the State House meeting rooms, we have every reason to believe that he will continue to undermine conservative candidates in the next election,” Hoell said.

It’s possible Jasper could see a primary challenger in 2018 if the House Freedom Caucus is serious about padding war chests for conservative candidates. It could also make some representatives who live in relatively safe Republican districts a little nervous as well.

Former Rep. Leon Rideout said the GOP needed to work together or else Democrats could gain control next year.

The next big-item, divisive bill that comes up in the House could further expose deeper wounds within the Republican Party. The House is expected to vote on the budget again later this year, after the Senate passes its version. Who knows what will happen in round two.

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