My Turn: Barrier to voting is all the GOP has left

For the Monitor
Wednesday, December 20, 2017

It is time for a serious discussion of the latest Republican effort to bar students from voting in New Hampshire.

House Bill 372 is coming up for a vote sometime in early January, and as of now it appears to have sufficient GOP support to pass. It is a terrible bill, which apparently creates a new form of poll tax applicable to students (mostly college students) who are “domiciled” here in New Hampshire but who do not choose to get driver’s licenses or car registrations from the Granite State.

The poll tax proposal under HB 372 works this way: The bill requires a student to be a “resident” if they want to vote, and to get a license and register their car within 60 days of becoming a “resident.” The fees incident to those auto-related actions constitute the poll tax, because they are required costs imposed by the state incident to exercising the right to vote.

This is almost certainly unconstitutional lawmaking, but on a higher plane, it is much, much worse than that. Voting, some Republicans like to say, is a “privilege” here in New Hampshire. It is not. It is at least a “right,” and many of us would say it is a “duty.”

What the GOP in the Legislature is trying to do now is block our students from exercising their right to vote by scaring them off with fees and costs. To my way of thinking, here in New Hampshire that is just about political treason.

And the reason the GOP is trying to do this is simple: Young people don’t vote for the Republican Party. There is literally no other reason for this bill; the GOP certainly offers no other foundation. Young people just don’t vote with Republicans.

If young men and women liked the political offerings of the GOP, does anyone think the effort to disenfranchise them would be galloping through the New Hampshire House and Senate? Of course not.

Intimidating student voters is only a good idea if the political party doing it can’t earn positive support by putting forward attractive ideas. And how is the GOP doing in that department? Well, just look at their tax reform bill. It literally batters students from every point on the compass. No wonder the Republicans feel a need to bar students from the polling place.

It’s important to note that this is not just an idle debate here in the Granite State. To begin with, we are the first-in-the-nation primary state. That won’t last long if younger voters are being shut out. Second, we are an aging population. Our young people are leaving and not coming back.

As a state we do very little to support the university, UNH, that many of our students attend. By forcing them out of the polling places, Republicans will only accelerate the process of their dismay and departure.

It’s time we put a stop to this terrible travesty. It’s time to make the GOP learn that, in a democracy, they must “win” the votes of the people, not disenfranchise the voters.

(Peter Hoe Burling is a former House Democratic leader, state senator and DNC member. He lives in Cornish.)