New Hampshire’s New Voting Law Threatens Student Voters

It’s the latest unnecessary barrier to the ballot box in the Granite State

July 18, 2018

New Hampshire’s new voting law erects yet another unnecessary barrier to student voting in the state. It’s the latest in the Granite State’s ongoing effort to disenfranchise student voters.

House Bill 1264, which Gov. Chris Sununu signed into law Friday, changes the definition of “resident” in the state. As a result, New Hampshirites with out-of-state drivers’ licenses will have to obtain New Hampshire licenses if they want to vote. That’s all but certain to lower voting rates in New Hampshire’s college communities.

There are reasons to think this is by design. For some time, some New Hampshire lawmakers have attempted to make it more burdensome for students to vote. In fact, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. David Bates, introduced bills in two previous legislative sessions that tried to redefine the residency requirement for voting. And just last year, the state Legislature passed a law that put daunting barriers in front of voters wanting to use same-day voter registration — a method that is used at high rates in college towns.

Efforts to disenfranchise students are of dubious legality: The U.S. Supreme Court has long recognized students’ constitutional right to register and vote where they attend school. Indeed, Sununu delayed signing HB 1264 for weeks because, as he put it, he had “serious concerns” about the bill’s constitutionality. (In an unusual advisory opinion, a divided New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled that the bill passed constitutional muster.)

Legality aside, adding unnecessary burdens to young people’s ability to vote is bad policy. Last year’s midterm election saw the lowest voter turnout in 72 years. Lawmakers should be focused on encouraging young people to register and vote, instead of making it harder.

The law is particularly problematic given the broader context in which it was undertaken. Last fall, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach — the leader of President Trump’s controversial and now-defunct voting commission — peddled false claims of voter fraud by New Hampshire college students during the 2016 presidential elections. Even though these claims, and others like them, have been debunked, they undermine faith in the integrity of our elections. 

Sununu said Friday that the new law would “restore equality and fairness” to the state’s elections. But that’s not how many of the state’s college students see it. When passing election laws, states must strike a balance between well-regulated and secure elections, and access to the franchise. New Hampshire’s new law badly misses the mark.

(Image: Flickr.com/Justgrimes)