“Court blocks penalties in new New Hampshire voting law”

Josh Gerstein:

A New Hampshire judge has blocked recent changes to the state’s voting laws that would have exposed some first-time voters to a fine or jail time if they failed to submit residence paperwork within 10 days of registering.

Hillsborough County Superior Court Presiding Justice Charles Temple granted a temporary restraining order Tuesday against part of the law signed into law by Republican Gov. Chris Sununu in July and known as State Bill 3.

From the opinion:

In the Court’s view, at least for the limited purposes of a temporary restraining order, the new civil and criminal penalties established by SB 3, codified in RSA 654:12, I(c)(2)(A) and RSA 659:34 are “severe” restrictions on the right to vote. Based upon its time-constrained review of the record and the relevant law, the Court cannot find that these restrictions are “narrowly drawn” by any stretch of the imagination. There are simply too many unanswered questions at this stage in the litigation. For instance, what if a same-day voter has the required documents at home, swears he/she will provide them, but the voter then cannot get them to the clerk’s office in time for one reason or another (such as illness, family emergency, or even a lack of a printer)? Under the plain language of the statute, it appears that such a voter will be subject to a $5,000 fine or even a year in jail for simply failing to return paperwork. The State’s argument at the hearing today—that these harsh penalties would be saved by prosecutorial discretion— was unconvincing to say the least. The average voter seeking to register for the firsttime very well may decide that casting a vote is not worth a possible $5,000 fine, a year in jail, or throwing himself/herself at the mercy of the prosecutor’s “discretion.” To the Court, these provisions of SB 3 act as a very serious deterrent on the right to vote, and if there is indeed a “compelling” need for them, the Court has yet to see it. Accordingly, the Court finds that the plaintiffs are entitled to a temporary order restraining the defendants from enforcing any of the new penalties associated with SB 3. Therefore, in the event any voter fails to provide documentation as required by RSA 654:12, I(c)(2)(A), the defendants are enjoined from seeking civil or criminal penalties.

While the Court has serious concerns regarding other parts of SB 3, the Court recognizes that the law is entitled a presumption of constitutionality. See AFT— N.H., 167 N.H. at 300. The Court therefore will not enter any additional temporary relief at this time.

[This post has been updated to reflect a correction in the Politico article.]

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