As the fight continues over a slew of new voting laws passed by Republicans across the country in 2011 -- including requiring voters to present photo identification at the polls, a measure that could hurt Democrats in the 2012 presidential election -- the media and political scrum over the issue alone has caused major confusion in some key primary states.
In New Hampshire, various voting-rights groups are especially concerned that misinformation might affect voters in Tuesday's primary races.
Though a number of bills were passed in the state legislature last year that would require a photo ID, Gov. John Lynch (D) rejected the bills. There is currently no law in the state that requires a photo ID to get a ballot. But that fact never resonated with folks who for more than a year had heard the constant drumbeat that New Hampshire was soon to join other states that had passed such laws.
Some major news outlets, including NBC Nightly News, lumped New Hampshire into a list of other states that would be asking for ID at the polls or otherwise implementing new voter laws. Other smaller outlets followed suit. Cities and towns within New Hampshire seemed to be confused about who was eligible to vote and with what, according to voters'-rights groups.
Melissa Bernardin, the New Hampshire political and field director for America Votes, said voters face some unique challenges in obtaining correct information following a year of legislative debate over photo ID and other voting laws.
"One might argue that even though the bill did not pass, photo ID supporters will have a partial victory if they are successful enough confusing voters who do not have photo ID," Bernadin said.
"Every bill to curtail voting rights failed in last year's legislature," Bernardin added. "But this constant discussion of the legislation is already affecting the electorate, causing confusion. It's important for us as a state to remind election officials and voters of their rights."
According to a recent report by the League of Women Voters, about 300 of New Hampshire's 330 towns have their own websites, and the vast majority of those with websites have false information about the current voting law -- or no information at all.
"I really fear that some of the town officials in some of these places that have websites do not have the proper information because they are not sure what to put up," said Joan Flood Ashwell, an election law specialist at the League of Women Voters.
Ashwell said the misinformation on the websites ranges. Some of the sites correctly state that you can register to vote up to 10 days before an election, but fail to mention that Election Day registration is available. Others, she said, refer to photo ID requirements to register but fail to mention that other documents, including a signed affidavit, can be used if someone doesn't have a government issued ID.
Ashwell said she has even heard stories of voters turned away during the 2010 midterms because they didn't have birth certificates.
A polling place in the town of New Boston erroneously had a huge sign hanging outside that warned no photo ID, no vote, Ashwell said.
"We've always had that on an informal level. There are people who have always been writing letters to the editor, or go around and have meetings with groups of people that are spreading misinformation. That's been a problem for years and years," Ashwell said. "Now the problem is all these rumors of new requirements and all these different pieces of legislation. They've all been defeated, but the constant introduction of new laws is confusing people."
There are at least six new voting laws expected to be introduced this legislative session, she said.
New Hampshire Republicans, like their counterparts across the country, said voter ID laws are necessary to prevent voter fraud, though there is little evidence that widespread fraud actually exists.
"We have an obligation to make sure no one who's qualified to vote is denied the opportunity to vote, but also to make sure no one votes who's not truly qualified to vote," New Hampshire state Rep. David Bates, a Republican and chairman of the House Election Law Committee, told the Concord Monitor in May of last year after the House passed a voter ID bill by a 243 to 111 margin. "This provides a means to ensure that those who come to the polls to vote are who they claim they are."
The bill was later vetoed by the governor.
America Votes provided the following information on voting in New Hampshire:
In New Hampshire you may register to vote at the Town Clerk's Office or with the Supervisors of the Checklist up to 10 days before the Election, or at the polling place on Election Day.
- Already registered voters need only state their name and address to get a ballot. There is no requirement for any additional identification. A variety of documents can be used to register to vote. A photo ID is not mandatory.
- To register to vote, you will be asked for documents to confirm your identity, age and residence in the voting district, but it does not have to be a photo ID. Other common documents you can use to register include a student ID, employee ID, birth certificate, rental lease, tax bill, utility bill, bank statement or any other document that would reasonably establish your identity and local residence. New Hampshire doesn't have a length of residency requirement for voting. Even if you moved here recently, you may vote if this is the place where you are living now, not just vacationing or visiting. You may claim only one place as your home for voting purposes. As a last resort, you can sign an affidavit saying you are who you say you are and you live where you say you live.
- There is no law in New Hampshire requiring voters to present a photo ID or other identification in order to get a ballot. A photo ID bill last session was vetoed by the Governor and his veto was sustained.
- If you are a Republican, you can vote in the Republican Primary Election on January 10. If you are a Democrat, you can vote in the Democratic Primary Election on January 10. If you are undeclared (independent), you may choose to vote in either Primary Election and then, usually, change your registration back to undeclared before you leave the polls.
Democratic officials have said the passing of voter ID laws by Republican-led legislatures across the country are aimed at key Democratic voting blocs, including racial minorities, the elderly and poor.
New Hampshire is almost 94 percent white. Still, some say the proposed measures would complicate the voting process and are aimed at those who do not have ID or have difficulty with physical mobility. According to America Votes, there are 30,000 to 50,000 voting-age citizens in New Hampshire -- mostly the elderly and young people -- who do not possess a state driver's license or other government ID.
Misinformation regarding voting laws there could in fact be part of the wider effort to disenfranchise particular voters, said Joanne Dowdell, a Democratic candidate for New Hampshire's 1st Congressional District.
"It's just another ploy to tamp down the number of voters that get out to vote," Dowdell said. "Voter suppression is contrary to the freedoms this country was built on. We should be encouraging people to get out and vote. We should be making it easer for people to get out and vote and not trying to disenfranchise people who are isolated, who don't have access to the Internet, our senior community."
"I think the misinformation is rampant right now on a lot of fronts," she said. "If you look at those groups, it is curious that by and large they lean toward the Democratic Party."