Should out-of-state students be allowed to vote in New Hampshire elections?
By: LFDA Editor
Students make up a large portion of the population in several towns in New Hampshire, including Durham, Keene, Hanover, and Plymouth. The issue of these students and their right to vote has been the subject of bills nearly every legislative session for the past few years.
Proponents of student voter restrictions argue that students are skewing the vote in college towns and earning the towns more liberal elected officials. They say that the students are not permanent residents and should not have the right to vote.
Opponents of laws meant to restrict student voting believe that it’s a misconception that students lean to the left. Opponents also argue that banning students from voting, despite the fact that many live in New Hampshire for only nine months out of the year, is equivalent to voter suppression.
Rep. Dick Marston (R-Manchester) is the primary sponsor of HB 183, a 2015 bill that removes language from the voter registration form that suggests a voter who claims domicile must also have a New Hampshire driver's license. A voter must claim domicile, but not residency, to vote. Residency requires a New Hampshire driver's license, etc. The voter registration form currently reads, "In declaring New Hampshire as my domicile, I am subject to the laws of the state of New Hampshire which apply to all residents, including laws requiring a driver to register a motor vehicle and apply for a New Hampshire's driver's license within 60 days of becoming a resident." Some Democrats argue this wording is intended to discourage out-of-state college students from voting in New Hampshire.
Sen. Sharon Carson is the primary sponsor of SB 4, a 2015 bill that tightens the definition of domicile for the purpose of voting. Carson is also the primary sponsor of SB 179, a 2015 bill that requires that a voter has lived in the state and county for at least 30 days. SB 179 passed the Senate in March, followed by the House in June, but was vetoed by Gov. Hassan.
In 2014, HB 1506, which removed career school student IDs from the list of acceptable voter identification, was shot down, as were HB 1255, which made any student with their name on a voter checklist eligible for in-state tuition, and HB 1505, which required the University of New Hampshire to indicate whether a student was in-state or out-of-state on each ID card. SB 284, which says that students paying out-of-state tuition at UNH cannot claim New Hampshire as a domicile for voting purposes, was sent for interim study.
SB 374, which, after amendments, did not make it through the legislature, would establish a commission to review and make recommendations to standardize and make uniform the definitions of “domicile” and “residency” in state statutes.
Lastly, the House and Senate passed SB 206, which requires anyone objecting to a voter's identification to provide evidence that the ID does not prove the voter’s identity.
Gov. Hassan signed HB 595 into law on July 24, 2013. It repealed parts of the voter ID regulations set to go into effect on September 1 that year. That fall, voters without ID were not required to fill out a voter affidavit form or be photographed, and poll workers were given permission to verify a person’s identity.
In May 2013, the Senate voted to reduce the number of accepted forms of voter ID, removing student IDs, and to delay the use of photos with affidavits until September 2015. Following debate, the Senate allowed for student IDs to continue to be a valid form of identification at the polls.
SB 289, passed June 27, 2012, requires residents to show identification prior to voting in a town, state, or federal election. The bill was vetoed by then-Gov. Lynch but overridden by the House and Senate.
The law’s supporters argued that it would reduce voter fraud and that being required to show identification is a common occurrence (like when checking into a hotel or purchasing tobacco). Opponents said it was a form of discrimination toward students in addition to the elderly and low-income residents – groups least likely to be in possession of an ID form.
During the trial run, between the bill’s passing and September 2013, voters without identification had to fill out an affidavit to confirm their identity and also have their photo taken, then later be contacted by the state, when they would confirm that they did vote (a result of HB 1354). Vouchers were made available to those without identification who wished to obtain it for free.
SB 318, also passed over the Governor’s veto in 2012, added terminology to voter registration forms that had a signing voter attest to New Hampshire being their domicile. The law was challenged in 2012 by the League of Women Voters and the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union, who asserted that it was discriminatory to students. It was ruled unconstitutional in July of 2014, and the Supreme Court upheld that decision in a May 2015 ruling.
HB 1478, which passed the House in 2012 but was tabled by the Senate, deemed that people declaring a New Hampshire address as a domicile for voting purposes are also required to establish New Hampshire as their residence for motor vehicle law purposes.
In 2011, HB 176 proposed a definition for the word “domicile” that declared, for voting purposes, that the domicile of a person attending an institution of learning is not the place where the institution is located unless the person was domiciled there prior to matriculation. The bill was struck down in March 2011.