Yesterday the New Hampshire House of Representatives passed an initiative that would make it infinitely harder for students to vote in state by radically redefining “domicile” for voting purposes If the proposal became law, anyone who wants to vote in New Hampshire will first have to register all vehicles in the state and get a New Hampshire driver’s license.
Last October FELN wrote about this proposed change to New Hampshire’s residency laws and the danger it posed to the student vote. The change would not only affect students’ ability to keep any insurance coverage linked to their out-of-state family’s address, but could also have negative impact on tuition rates. When students establish residency in New Hampshire, they would then pay in-state tuition rates. The amount of revenue lost on the difference between the out-of-state rate and the lower in-state rate could force all tuition costs up to cover the difference.
Plus, the change does not address what would happen to students who do not drive, or who drive vehicles registered to their parents. This change places college students in limbo, forcing them to establish residency that could force them to surrender access to healthcare, or remaining ties to their former home in order to vote. It places a cost on their right to vote, which is fundamentally unfair. Furthermore, by complicating the legal environment around student voting, the change will both confuse and intimidate students who may not vote for fear of violating a law, a problem that other citizens of their communities will not face.
Even students originally from New Hampshire could be affected, as it will force them to change their residency in the same way if they’ve moved between counties and districts, effectively putting up the same barriers to natives of the state as those moving from elsewhere.
According to The Nashua Telegraph, Rep. David Cote (D-Nashua) raised serious concerns about the law, noting that it could conflict with nearly 600 other references in state law to residency or domicile.
“Most importantly, the integrity of the voting system in New Hampshire is compromised,” Cote said. “History shows that this law could be used to target voters such as college students, low-income residents and members of our military in order to intimidate them and suppress their vote.”
The measure now goes on to the State Senate for approval before being sent to the desk of Governor John Lynch. It should be noted that Lynch vetoed a similar measure in the past, but the 248-101 vote in the House indicates that this time, a veto could be easily overridden.