Out-Of-State Students May Vote in New Hampshire, Judge Rules

  • September 25, 2012
  • By Jim Malewitz

Residents of other states who are in school in New Hampshire will be able to vote there in November, a state judge ruled Monday (September 24), reversing the legislature's attempt to say otherwise.

Strafford County Superior Court Judge John Lewis ordered the state to print up new voter registration forms, striking a paragraph recently added by the legislature, which the judge said conflicts with other state election laws and would likely confuse voters.

The controversial paragraph requires that registering voters declare New Hampshire their “domicile,” making them subject to all state laws applying to residents, “including laws requiring a driver to register a motor vehicle and apply for a New Hampshire driver's license within 60 days of becoming a resident.”

Many college and university students in New Hampshire don't live permanently in the state, but they have long been allowed to vote in its elections, as is the case in most states.

New Hampshire's Republican-dominated legislature added the new paragraph in June, saying non-residents such as out-of-state students should not have a say in New Hampshire's elections. The law, which garnered enough support to override a veto from Governor John Lynch, a Democrat, was just one of many examples across the country of conservative legislatures looking to tighten voter eligibility requirements.

In many states, that has meant passing requirements for voters to show photo identification at the polls. In several states, including Pennsylvania and South Carolina, college ID's are not on the list of acceptable identification, leading voter rights groups to accuse lawmakers of trying to stifle turnout among students, a group most likely to vote Democratic.

In New Hampshire, Judge Lewis sided with the challengers, who said the disputed paragraph would cause confusion for voters — particularly students — because it equated the words “domicile” and “residency,” which have different meanings under New Hampshire law.

The law was challenged by four students, who were backed by the League of Women Voters and the American Civil Liberties Union.

“The state offers no compelling justification for this paragraph, which, again, presents an inaccurate expression of the law and has a clear harmful effect on the exercise of voting rights and education connected therewith,” Lewis wrote.

New Hampshire Republicans criticized the ruling. In a joint statement with Senate President Peter Bragdon, House Speaker William O'Brien called the decision “judicial activism of the worst sort.”

“New Hampshire citizens have a right to elect individuals of their own choosing,” he said, according to the (Manchester) Union Leader. “Allowing non-residents into New Hampshire to dictate who will be our presidential choice, who shall be our governor, and who shall represent us in the Legislature takes away our voting rights.”

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