Early Tuesday morning, Judge Charles Temple blocked the state of New Hampshire from enforcing newly drafted criminal and civil penalties for voting errors, saying the fines and threats of jail time “act as a very serious deterrent on the right to vote.”
After the state passed a law in April making it much more difficult to register to vote, especially for college students and low-income people who move frequently, the League of Women Voters and New Hampshire Democratic Party sued, claiming the state had violated the National Voter Registration Act.
Though the judge allowed most of the law to go into effect, he wrote a scathing denunciation of the state’s argument that the penalties are appropriate and that local prosecutors would properly differentiate between intentional voter fraud and honest mistakes.
“The court cannot find that these restrictions are ‘narrowly drawn’ by any stretch of the imagination,” Judge Temple wrote. “The average voter seeking to register for the first time 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.’”
The court will hold hearings on the merits of the law at a later date.
The battle over the state’s voting laws comes as New Hampshire plays host on Tuesday to President Trump’s “voter integrity” panel, and as the panel’s chair, Kris Kobach, pushes debunked conspiracy theories about widespread voter fraud in the Granite State.