By Kevin Mooney — Losing New Hampshire could mean losing it all for the Obama campaign.
After reportedly pulling back on Florida, Virginia and North Carolina, where Gov. Mitt Romney is surging, the Obama campaign has settled on the Granite State as one of its must-wins. That’s far from certain in a state that has been trending back to the Republicans since 2010 when the GOP captured a veto-proof majority in the state legislature. The Real Clear Politics average has President Obama up by less than a point.
Pollster John Zogby has drawn up a scenario that has N.H. putting the Obama-Biden ticket over the top, but that was assuming the Democrats win Florida, which now appears unlikely. The Obama campaign is now looking to combine N.H.’s four electoral votes with wins in Ohio, Nevada, and Illinois. But putting everything into N.H. is dicey. Even the WMUR-University of New Hampshire poll, which once showed Obama with a big lead, now has the two candidates separated by single digits.
In a race that to continues to tighten, it is now evident that New Hampshire’s ballot integrity efforts have assumed a heightened importance.
Secretary of State William Gardner, a Democrat, purged the voter rolls of dead and ineligible voters in August. As a result, 163,221 voters were dropped from the rolls statewide, according to the Secretary of State’s Office. In June, the Republican-controlled Legislature overrode the veto of Democratic Gov. John Lynch to pass a new voter ID law that will be phased in over the next few years. Attorney General Eric Holder has been suing to take down voter identification laws in other states claiming they are in violation of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965. Most recently, a federal court ruled against Holder and the Department of Justice (DOJ) in a case involving a South Carolina voter ID law. But in August, a federal court ruled against a stricter version of voter ID in Texas.
Under Section 5, of the VRA the DOJ has the authority to approve or reject election law changes made in certain parts of the country. The jurisdictions covered under the VRA area are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia and parts of California, Florida, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, South Dakota, and New Hampshire. The law was initially set up as a safeguard against racial discrimination, but critics charge that Section 5 has been applied unevenly and unfairly.
Voters who do not have a photo ID in the current election cycle will still be permitted to vote, but they must sign an affidavit. Letters will then be sent to any voters whose signature appears on the affidavit requesting confirmation that they voted. If state officials do not receive a response within 90 days of the time when the letter was sent, the attorney general will then conduct an investigation into voter fraud. After Sept. 1, 2013, voters must have a valid photo ID in order to vote.
“We do not see widespread systematic voter fraud,” David Scanlan, the deputy secretary of state, said in an interview. “But there have been isolated cases that have been cause for concern and there is a strong perception out there that it is a serious problem, and that if we don’t check ID’s we are not going to know whether it is taking place.”
Corey Lewandowski, the N.H. state director of Americans for Prosperity, said the new voter ID will help to root out college students who should not be voting.
“There has been a problem with college students who maintain a residence with their parents out of state, but then also get registered to vote here,” he said. “Thanks to the voter ID law, this means they will need to become residents if they want to vote. That’s very helpful.”
Former President Bill Clinton appeared at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, earlier this month, where he was critical of the state’s voter ID law. Clinton told students Republicans were trying to take away their right to vote, and they have a large stake in the election.
“Republicans in New Hampshire think it matters,” Clinton said. “That’s why they’ve worked so hard to keep you from voting.”
Since the U.S. Supreme Court has already upheld the constitutionality of voter ID laws in a case involving Indiana, the New Hampshire law appears to be on solid legal footing. The DOJ’s uneven enforcement of the VRA is not. The Supreme Court is expected to take up a challenge from Gov. Rick Perry of Texas to Section 5 in its current term.
Since N.H. has sidestepped the legal challenges that have bedeviled other states, its law will be operative this coming Election Day, and it could be decisive given how close and competitive the race has become.
President Obama returned to the state just a few days after his second debate with Romney.
“Listen, New Hampshire, you’ve heard of the New Deal? You’ve heard of the Square Deal and the Fair Deal — Mitt Romney’s trying to sell you a sketchy deal,” Obama told about 6,000 supporters during a campaign at Veteran’s Memorial Park in Manchester. “We know better because the last time this sketchy deal was tried was in the previous administration.”
How much the “Blame Bush” strategy moves independents who are up for grabs in N.H. an open question. There is an anti-tax amendment on the ballot that probably works to Romney’s advantage. There is a gubernatorial race that has GOP candidate Ovide Lamontagne maintaining a narrow, but consistent lead over Democrat Maggie Hassan, the former state Senate majority leader.
The internal dynamics appear to favor Romney, as does a Voter ID that will preclude college students, who typically favor the Democrats, from voting unless first become residents.
Kevin Mooney is a contributing editor to Americans for Limited Government. You can follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinMooneyDC.