New Hampshire Law Would Disenfranchise Thousands

The New Hampshire House of Representatives has introduced a bill, HB 176, that would change the definition of “domicile” in a way that would prevent college students from registering to vote in the state, unless they grew up in the town they are registered in.   The Supreme Court held in 1972 that long-term residency requirements for voting were unconstitutional. Today, New Hampshire has no residency requirement, it only requires  that citizens register 10 days before an election.   If enacted, this legislation would disenfranchise thousands of voters.   Though promoted as an effort to prevent voter fraud, critics have called into question the motivation of the legislation, introduced by a Republican caucus that just gained control of the chamber last month.   Since college students overwhelmingly vote Democratic, this bill would undoubtedly aid Republicans in future elections.   The proposed legislation would also prevent stationed military personnel from registering in New Hampshire if residing outside of their hometown.   The potential for mass disenfranchisement exists — the Portsmouth Naval Yard alone is staffed with more than 6,000 servicemen and women.   To deny the vote to the citizens of whom we demand the most strikes at the heart of what we consider to be American — not to mention that our members of the military don’t get to choose where they are stationed.   One Republican representative defended the bill, noting that “towns like Keene and Hanover … have lost the ability to govern themselves.”   This presupposes that college students aren’t included in “themselves.” But why aren’t they? Why shouldn’t someone who resides in a town for nine months out of the year have a say in how and by whom it is governed?    Many students choose to stay at school and work over the summer — effectively making them full-time residents.   And why target college students? As a staff editorial in UNH’s newspaper, The New Hampshire, points out, how are they different than nine-month New Hampshire residents who forsake harsh New England winters for sunny Florida? Surely this is no different than college students, who “vacation” during the summer at home.   These New Hampshire towns should be grateful that these institutions exist, bringing jobs and businesses to otherwise rural areas. If Dartmouth up and moved, Hanover would be without its largest employer.   Legislation like this would significantly alter the political makeup of Burlington, where more than 25 percent of the population are college students, most of whom are from out of state, and the vast majority of whom didn’t grow up in Burlington.   HB 176 is so grossly unconstitutional that it is baffling that it has made it this far — and as both houses of the legislature are controlled by Republicans, it has the potential to make it to the desk of Gov. John Lynch.   The Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU Law School stated that the legislation would implement the most restrictive voting registration laws in the nation.    HB 176 would relegate college students to second-class status and deny them the ability to be participants in the democratic system.