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New Hampshire’s New Voting Law Threatens Student Voters

The latest unnecessary barrier to the ballot box in the Granite State

  • Makeda Yohannes
July 19, 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.

An incor­rect update was added to this post on 10/23/18 saying that the law had been blocked by a court. In fact the court blocked a differ­ent New Hamp­shire voting law. We regret the error.