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When New Hampshire voters go to the polls Tuesday for the first presidential primary of the 2016 race, they will have to do something new.
This year's presidential primary is the first in which the state's voters will be required to show identification before they can cast their ballots.
Before the state's new voter ID law went into effect in 2012, voters could just give their name and address, get checked off the roll, and vote. Now voters will be asked to show photo identification, such as a driver’s license or military ID, before they can obtain a ballot.
If a voter doesn’t have a photo ID, they can fill out a “challenged voter affidavit” swearing they are who they say they are. They would also need to have their photo taken by an election official — a new provision that was implemented last fall. Voters can object to the photo for religious reasons by filling out a separate affidavit for a religious exemption. Those who complete the affidavit process will have their votes counted.
Those who fill out an affidavit will also receive a follow-up letter from the state asking them to verify they voted in the election. If a response isn’t received within 90 days, the state will investigate.
New Hampshire passed its voter ID law in 2012. The law was part of a wave of voter ID laws passed around the country and pushed by Republican lawmakers.
Proponents of voter ID laws say the requirements crack down on voter fraud. Opponents say voter fraud isn’t a problem and the laws disenfranchise minorities, new voters and low-income voters.
Studies have found voter fraud is rare. And a 2014 Government Accountability Office report found voter ID laws lowered voter turnout in two states — Kansas and Tennessee. That report also noted other studies had found voter ID laws lowered turnout, though some studies found no effect on turnout and one study found an increase in turnout.
The secretary of state in New Hampshire hasn't yet released an official prediction for voter turnout for Tuesday's primary, but observers predict a large turnout. And as New Hampshire Public Radio previously reported, election officials have been preparing to deal with the new voter ID law. Meanwhile, advocates from the American Civil Liberties Union and League of Women Voters plan to monitor the election.
The ACLU said it's concerned the photo requirement for the “challenged voter affidavit" will create an additional burden for polling officials and may intimidate eligible voters.
"It is also unclear if the picture-taking provision will do anything to increase the integrity of our elections," Christina Gibson, the communication and outreach coordinator for the ACLU of New Hampshire, said in an email. "It is unclear why this step is necessary and what, if anything, it will do to make our elections more secure. Instead it could be counter-productive and drive away voters."
But some say the state’s voter ID law won’t really have an impact on the primary.
“I don’t think that it’s going to prevent people from voting or hinder people from voting,” said Andy Smith, the director of the University of New Hampshire’s Survey Center. “And I don’t think we’re going to have to worry really about fraud from people who show up.”
But the law may slow things down and create longer lines at some polling centers, Smith added.
While voter ID laws have been a contentious issue in some states, there hasn’t been that same level of conflict around New Hampshire’s law. That’s largely because of the state’s demographics, said Smith, a political scientist.
“The kinds of groups that have criticized voter ID laws as being discriminatory largely don’t exist in the New Hampshire electorate,” Smith said. “New Hampshire is generally a very well-off state. It’s also a state with very few minorities … I just don’t think there’s that many people who would feel significant segments of the New Hampshire primary electorate would be excluded by requiring a voter ID.”
New Hampshire’s voter ID law also isn’t as strict as other laws in other states, according to Smith. Some states only accept a state-issued driver’s license or ID card. New Hampshire accepts different types of ID and allows for an election official or clerk to vouch for someone's identity if that person doesn’t have a photo ID.
The full impact of New Hampshire’s voter ID law won’t be known until after Tuesday’s primary. After that, a number of other states will also hold their first presidential elections under new voter ID laws.
Correction: An earlier version of this report said the New Hampshire law went into effect in 2013. It went into effect in 2012, and then was updated in 2013. We regret the error.
This segment aired on February 9, 2016.
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