Secretary of State William Gardner takes a dim view of congressional efforts to address with federal legislation the long lines some states saw at polling places during the November election. In his experience, he said, “One-size-fits-all usually fits very few.” The White House and some in Congress are pushing for changes to federal election laws, such as those involving early voting and online voter registration. But if such measures were to pass, Gardner said, “we would first work to get out of it like we did with the National Voter Registration Act.” New Hampshire got an exemption from that 1993 “motor-voter” law by passing same-day voter registration and making it retroactive to the date of the federal legislation. Gardner stressed that different states have very different cultures. “We are who we are because of our history,” he said. And, he said, “the federal government hasn’t had the best of track records when it comes to changing election laws for states. And I would prefer that the federal government stay out of this.”
One proposal, the SIMPLE Voting Act, sponsored by Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., and 89 Democratic co-sponsors, would require states to establish a minimum period of 15 days for early voting prior to the date of an election for federal office.
It would also require states to have sufficient voting systems, poll workers and other resources to ensure “that no individual will be required to wait longer than one hour to cast a ballot at the polling place.”
And a bill introduced by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., would require states to have online voter registration.
Gardner said he doesn’t favor early voting; data from the recent federal election proved it doesn’t improve turnout. And he contends it “diminishes the significance of Election Day itself.”
There’s another problem with early voting, Gardner said: “We’ve had people that have pulled out of the presidential primary the week before the primary.”
He recalled former Republican presidential candidate Alexander Haig did just that in 1988, endorsing Bob Dole just days before the primary. Gardner’s office started getting calls from people who had voted for Haig by absentee ballot and wanted to vote again.
“When it comes to election laws, unintended consequences are almost automatic,” Gardner said. “Because you can’t think of every possible angle.”