New Hampshire Republicans Try to Require Proof of Citizenship to Register to Vote

The bill, part of a nationwide wave of conservative proposals fueled by Donald Trump’s false allegations of voter fraud, risks disenfranchising many eligible voters.

Cameron Joseph   |    June 12, 2024

The question remains whether New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu will sign a new GOP-led bill with strict citizenship proof requirements for voter registration. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)

New Hampshire Republicans have passed legislation that would create a new barrier to register to vote—and the big question is whether Republican Governor Chris Sununu will allow it to become law.

In late May, the GOP-controlled New Hampshire legislature adopted a bill that would require people to present their birth certificate, passport, or naturalization papers proving their U.S. citizenship in order to register to vote, with no exceptions. That would be a major departure from longstanding New Hampshire law that allows people to sign sworn affidavits as a substitute if they don’t have proof of citizenship when they register to vote. 

Under current New Hampshire law, voters are asked to provide proof of identity and age (usually a driver’s license), proof that they live where they want to vote, and proof of citizenship (either a birth certificate or a passport) in order to be able to register and vote. Less than half of Americans have a passport, and a new study by the Brennan Center found that nine percent of Americans don’t have any proof of citizenship readily available. The current law in New Hampshire allows people to sign a sworn affidavit attesting that they’re telling the truth about their citizenship and residency. Roughly 6,000 people used affidavits in the 2016 election cycle.

The attorney general’s office then follows up after the election to verify those claims. Republicans point to the fact that after the 2016 election cycle, the AG’s office was unable to verify whether 230 of those affidavits were true statements. But that doesn’t mean those registrations contained false information—it just means the AG’s office couldn’t run down the paperwork. The office couldn’t provide any examples of them bringing charges against people for lying on their affidavits in years when asked by NHPR.

The bill would make New Hampshire the only state in the country to require people to bring documentation to prove their citizenship in order to be able to register to vote. 

Republican proponents in the legislature insist it’s a guard against voter fraud, but Democrats as well as many nonpartisan election administrators are worried this new stringent standard will compromise the rights of many eligible voters.

Nashua City Clerk Dan Healey, a registered Republican who is president of the nonpartisan New Hampshire City and Town Clerks Association, warns that the new requirements would disenfranchise voters for no good reason. For Granite Staters who were born in other states and find out last-minute that they need a copy of their birth certificate to register, there’s no way that they will be able to get it in time. 

“We’re very concerned with denying eligible voters the right to vote on election day, because there’s really no cure in place for them to then be able to vote. And I see it as a huge problem, and I think we’re going to get a lot of complaints,” he told Bolts. “As far as I can see, it’s unnecessary…they’re trying to cure something that’s really not a problem.”

He said making the bill a law would be “a pretty big change for our poll workers” and leave election officials scrambling to train them and implement the new requirements. 

Healey sent a letter to Sununu on behalf of the organization in late May asking him to veto what they called a “troubling” bill. But he told Bolts that he had heard nothing back from the governor’s office.

In March, as the bill began making its way through the statehouse, Sununu initially expressed skepticism about its necessity.

“Our system works really well right now,” he told WMUR. “The affidavit, ballot, and process, that seems to work pretty darn well, I haven’t got any negative feedback just yet. So generally I’d just say our system works very well, so I’m not looking to change it.”

But he’s been radio silent about the effort ever since. He hasn’t said a word in public about the bill since March, and his office didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment for this story.

Sununu is a sometimes-independent-minded governor who aggressively backed Nikki Haley over former President Donald Trump in the 2024 primaries. He’s since said he’ll vote for Trump over President Biden, but has remained critical of Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election and pushed back against Trump’s lies about the voting system. Just days ago, he said on CNN that state officials who certified the 2020 election “got it right” and that Biden won fair and square.

In the past, Sununu has signed restrictions on voter access that he’d previously criticized. 

The bill was sponsored by state Representative Bob Lynn, a former chief justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court who was nominated to the court by Sununu. During an April committee hearing on the bill, he admitted that he didn’t think New Hampshire faced a widespread problem with noncitizens voting, but argued that the bill was still necessary.

“Do I think there’s a huge issue of voter fraud in New Hampshire? No, I don’t, because I think if there was, we would know it,” Lynn said. “But the idea that it’s sort of de minimis, that there really is no voter fraud, or almost no voter fraud—I think we really don’t know the answer to that question, because voter fraud is very difficult to identify and prove.”

New Hampshire Republicans’ push is part of a national GOP effort to require proof of citizenship to register and vote, driven by lies from Trump and his allies that noncitizens are voting in droves.

Trump falsely claimed this was the reason he lost the popular vote in 2016, and launched a voting integrity panel that failed to turn up any evidence of this claim. He’s returned to this theme in recent months. 

At Trump’s behest, Republican U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson introduced legislation in early May to require proof of citizenship to vote in federal elections. Republican Senators Mike Lee and John Kennedy introduced a companion bill on the Senate side.

Similar laws have been tried before—and did more harm than good. Kansas Republicans passed a proof-of-citizenship voting law in 2013. It was blocked by a federal judge a few years later, but not before 30,000 people were prevented from registering to vote in the three years it was in place, according to the Associated Press.

The New Hampshire bill is also part of a nationwide wave of similar proposals. 

Republicans in Arizona have already adopted a law requiring voters to prove their citizenship, but people there can still vote in federal elections without fulfilling the proof requirement due to a federal consent decree. 

A dozen other states have seen similar legislation introduced, including in Louisiana, where Republicans recently sent a bill to the governor that would require voting registration applicants to prove their citizenship, and in Wisconsin, where state legislative Republicans passed a bill in 2023 that would have required use of the DMV’s citizenship data to verify voters’ citizenship. Democratic Governor Tony Evers vetoed it last December. 

It’s already a federal crime for noncitizens to vote in state and federal elections, and studies and surveys from various academics and voting rights groups have found that the actual cases of noncitizens voting are extremely few and far between.

A second bill is currently working its way through New Hampshire’s legislature that would similarly ban affidavits for registering and voting but attempts to offer a partial solution to the problem it creates. Details aren’t yet finalized, but this bill would create a hotline for election officials to call the attorney general’s office and DMV to try to verify citizenship if people forgot to bring their documentation. That bill is expected to be finalized and voted on late this week, though it’s not yet known exactly how this bill would interact with the one already passed and awaiting signature—or whether Sununu might decide to veto one but let the other become law.

At a hearing last week on the second measure, New Hampshire Secretary of State David Scanlan, a Republican, signaled support for these types of efforts.

“I don’t think that it is voter suppression or too much to ask voters to be able to give that confidence that they’re qualified to vote,” he said.

But even he warned that implementing measures like these in time for the state’s September primaries could be tough. “I agree that what is being asked is a significant new program, and it will require effort on the part of local election officials to be trained on this new process so that they understand it,” he said.

The new requirements in both bills could be particularly disruptive in New Hampshire because the state allows same-day voter registration. That’s a convenience most voters welcome, but it could be effectively made moot if the new bill means many people who show up on election day expecting to be able to register and vote would be left with almost no time to scramble to get their documents in order. 

“New Hampshire has a large percentage of voters who register same-day, and I think that they would all be in jeopardy,” said Olivia Zink, the executive director of the New Hampshire voting rights group Open Democracy.

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