New Hampshire Republicans are advancing a new bill to restrict voting by college students — the latest move in their years-long war on the voting rights of a key Democratic constituency in the state.
New legislation would require that voters be legal residents of New Hampshire, rather than merely “domiciled” there, as current law requires. That may not sound like a big deal. But new residents must register their cars in New Hampshire and obtain state-issued driver’s licenses. That means a student who comes to New Hampshire from another state and owns a car would have to pay several hundred dollars to maintain her voting rights.
The measure has passed the state House, and a Senate committee. Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican and a supporter of restrictive voting laws, is likely to sign it if it comes to his desk.
The bill’s Senate sponsor, Sen. James Gray (pictured), has been frank about the goal.
“I do want you to have the right to vote in New Hampshire,” Gray told The Concord Monitor. “If you’re a resident, if this is the place you choose to live abandoning all others, I want you to vote in New Hampshire. But if that place you choose to interact with is in Massachusetts, in Vermont, in Maine, in Kalamazoo, New Mexico, then I want you vote there.”
The bill’s progress comes after a year in which state Republicans, including Sununu, have put out the false message that hordes of non-residents are voting in New Hampshire elections. President Trump, too, has falsely claimed that he would have won the state were it not for illegal voting.
It’s likely that the bill would face a serious legal challenge if it goes into law. Courts have made clear that you don’t have to declare a place your permanent home in order to vote there. You just have to be living there at the time. So college students can vote where they go to school, even if they plan to leave the state after graduating.
Other recent efforts by state Republicans to make it harder for college students to vote haven’t fared well. In 2011, they passed a similar bill, requiring voters to swear that they meet the state’s residency requirements, including registering their cars. Like today, the bill’s backers were candid about the goal. College students, House Speaker William O’Brien said at the time, “just vote their feelings and they’re taking away the towns’ ability to govern themselves. It’s not fair.”
The state Supreme Court ultimately struck down that law in a ruling suggesting that linking car registration to voting unconstitutionally burdens the right to vote.
Earlier this year, they tried a different tack. A bill passed in May requires that people using same-day voter registration show documentary proof of residency within ten days of voting or risk a $5000 fine and an investigation that could involve government agents being sent to their door.
The law was another clear effort to chill voting by college students, who are a major share of those who take advantage of same-day registration. It was blocked by a judge in September, who called it “a serious deterrent on the right to vote.”
New Hampshire Republicans are intent on targeting college students because they’re crucial to Democratic chances in the state. In the state’s five largest college towns, Hillary Clinton last year won between 56 and 84 percent of the vote, and together they accounted for nearly ten percent of her total votes.