Should out-of-state students be allowed to vote in New Hampshire elections?
By: LFDA Editor
The issue of New Hampshire students and their right to vote has been on the discussion table for quite some time, and laws to change voting rights have been proposed and processed in the legislature nearly every session.
In 1972, a federal judge in New Hampshire enacted a law that forbid the state from banning students’ votes while they were living in the state. This ruling also allowed military personnel and temporary workers to vote while living in New Hampshire.
In recent years, several bills have come through legislature, each with a different tactic at changing the laws to define who can and who cannot legally vote in the state. These laws directly affect those attending colleges and universities in our state.
Proponents of these voter identification laws argue that students are skewing the vote in college towns, and earning the towns more liberal elected officials based on the weight of their votes. They say that the students are not permanent residents, and do not have the right to vote.
Opponents of the law believe that it’s a misconception that students lean to the left, and also argue that banning students from voting, despite the fact that many live there for nine months out of the year, is equivalent to voter suppression.
Students make up a large portion of the population in several towns in New Hampshire, including Durham, Keene, Hanover, and Plymouth.
In 2011, HB 176 proposed a definition for the word “domicile,” declaring that for voters attending institutions of learning a domicile would be defined as “the state, or the town, city, ward, or unincorporated place in New Hampshire, in which such person had his or her domicile immediately prior to matriculation, even though such person may no longer reside in said state, town, city, ward, or unincorporated place, and even though his or her intent to return thereto is uncertain. The domicile for voting purposes of a person attending an institution of learning shall not be the place where the institution is located unless the person was domiciled in that place prior to matriculation.”
A student from Beverly, Mass., living in a Durham apartment and attending the University of New Hampshire would not be eligible to vote under this bill.
The bill was struck down in March 2011. HB 1478
Passed by the House in March 2012 but laid on the table by the Senate in May, HB 1478 declares that to declare residency in New Hampshire, a person may not declare residency in any other location with regard to car registration and driver’s licenses. The bill text states that “a person who declares an address in a New Hampshire town or ward as his or her domicile for voting purposes shall be deemed to have established his or her residence for motor vehicle law purposes at that address.” SB 289
On June 27, 2012, SB 289 was passed, setting up regulations requiring residents to show identification prior to voting in a town, state, or federal election. The bill had been vetoed by Gov. Lynch on June 21, and was overridden by the House (231 to 112) and Senate (18 to 5). Lynch had vetoed the on grounds that it was “far more restrictive than necessary.” The House and Senate found the bill to be within constitutional limits.
Supporters of the law believe that this law will reduce voter fraud and argue that we are required to show ID in other situations (checking into a hotel, purchasing tobacco), so this is a common occurrence. Opponents believe it is a form of discrimination toward not just students, but to the elderly and low-income residents – groups least likely to be in possession of an ID form.
For the period between the bill’s passing and September 2013 (considered a trial run, and a time to educate voters), people wishing to vote without identification must sign a “challenged voter affidavit,” confirming their identity and have their picture taken and affixed to the affidavit. The state will the contact these people individually over the following 90 days to have them confirm that they did vote.
The law also means that student IDs will no longer be accepted as a valid form of identification beginning in September 2013. Only a driver’s license, state-issued non-driver's identification card, military ID, or passport will be accepted from that point forward. Any documents more than 5 years old will not be accepted at all.
For students to vote in future elections, they must declare a domicile in New Hampshire, which also requires registering vehicles in New Hampshire and obtaining a New Hampshire driver’s license (see HB 1478).
The NH Secretary of State offers a voucher to obtain a free ID voucher for people who don’t have identification that falls under the new requirements. Vouchers come from city and town clerk offices and can be redeemed at the DMV.
A similar law, HB 356, was presented in 2011 but was tabled for interim study and not pursued.HB 1354
Also on June 27, HB 1354 was adopted, allowing for voters to submit the challenged voter affidavit in order to vote (originally a “qualified” voter affidavit), and deems it a fraudulent charge to falsify any information on this affidavit.
According to the Nashua Telegraph, during the Sept. 11 primary, “roughly seven percent of 7 percent of voters around the state did not show a photo ID prior to voting, which would translate to about 49,000 people based on the 700,000 voters who participated in the 2008 presidential election.”SB 318
Yet another bill passed June 27 (an override of the governor’s veto) places the following terminology on voter registration forms in the state of New Hampshire. By signing the voter registration form, a voter attests to the following:
“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.”
US Attorney General Eric Holder’s approval was required and obtained for the Department of Justice to enforce any election-related laws that would affect certain New Hampshire communities, per the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
To prepare for these new laws, in particular SB 289 (requiring the presentation of identification at the polls), training sessions for election workers were conducted prior to the September 11, 2012 primary. According to the Eagle Tribune, about one-third of election workers attended this training.
On primary day, election workers were asked to test the new system of asking for identification, and allowing voters without ID to fill out a challenged voter affidavit. However, complaints arose from voters about being denied the right to vote, being harassed at registration, and failing to learn about the affidavit option when registering. About 7 percent of voters did not have photo identification to provide.
On election day, Nov. 6, 2012, about 1% of New Hampshire voters, or 7,000 people, declined to show identification and filled out challenged voter affidavits. They had 90 days to respond to verification forms sent by the Secretary of State Office, confirming that they did, in fact, vote on election day and fill out the affidavit. An investigation can ensue against voters who do not return the form.
SB 318 has been the focus of the student vote debate, resulting in the state of New Hampshire being sued and the law being struck down by Judge John Lewis of Stafford County Superior Court.
The League of Women Voters pressed to sue the state on Sept. 12, 2012, asserting that the new law is discriminatory to students. As quoted in the Eagle Tribune, elect law specialist for the league Joan Ashwell said, "We believe the law is a deliberate attempt to keep college students who have a constitutional right to vote while they attend school in New Hampshire from exercising that right in the fall elections.” The challenge by the League of Women Voters was supported by the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union.
On Sept. 23, Judge Lewis ruled that the League of Women Voters had a valid argument. The law was struck down and will reportedly be appealed by the Attorney General’s office.
Under the original law, when a voter went to register, they had to agree to be subject to the same laws as a resident, as in, registering their car and getting a New Hampshire license.
Students would have to change residency, which brings in additional issues. This ultimately involves students having to pay a fee (to register a car and get a license) in order to vote – a poll tax, to opponents of the law.
The repeal of the law means that students do not have to declare that they intend to remain in New Hampshire after graduation, and are not subject to registering their car or obtaining a New Hampshire driver’s license.
As the Concord Monitor explains, “The rights of those who are ‘domiciled’ compared with ‘residents’ are at the heart of the dispute over SB 318. The difference between the two is largely a state of mind: Both spend the bulk of their time here, but residents intend to stay indefinitely and those domiciled do not.”
House Speaker Bill O’Brien, an advocate for preventing students from voting, argues that allowing students to vote changes the outcome of elections for NH residents and takes away their rights to decide fully the outcome of the elections.
Secretary of State Bill Gardner argues that SB 318 does not violate the 1972 law because no person is asked to give an indefinite intention to stay in the state.
2013 Legislation: HB 595
was proposed in the 2013 legislation. The bill would repeal parts of the voter ID regulations that were set to go into effect September 1, 2013. Passed by the House, the new law would mean that a person without photo identification at the polls would not be required to be photographed and to sign an affidavit, and that a poll worker may serve as confirmation of someone's identification if they are on familiar terms. Opponents of the laws going into effect in September cite the increased cost, poll worker involvement, and time it would take to implement the measures.
The Senate voted in May 2013 to reduce the number of acceptable IDs from seven to four, removing student IDs from the acceptable documents, and to delay the use of photos along with affidavits until September 2015. Student IDs are still to be accepted as valid of the local election official approves of them.