Carve-out for student voters clears New Hampshire Senate

Associated Press
Published: 3/28/2019 6:33:04 PM

New Hampshire Democrats on Thursday continued their push to reverse what they consider to be voter suppression laws with Senate passage of a bill aimed at college students from other states.

A new law that takes effect in July will end the state’s distinction between domicile and residency for voting purposes, which means out-of-state college students who vote in New Hampshire would also be subject to residency requirements such as getting New Hampshire driver’s licenses or registering their cars.

But the Senate passed a bill Thursday to create an exception for college students, members of the military and others living in the state temporarily. The bill now goes to the House, which has passed a similar bill aimed at reversing the new law.

“These citizens reside in New Hampshire, pay tuition, rent, have mortgages, buy groceries and support our local economy,” said Sen. Melanie Levesque, D-Nashua. “If they choose to vote in the state where they temporarily reside, it is their right to do so without triggering motor vehicle charges.”

Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, said the debate reminded him of that around the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, which sought to remove barriers preventing African Americans from voting.

“How long did it take this country to recognize the fact that everybody has the right to vote? Now, we’re curtailing it,” he said. “We’ve been denying the right to vote decade after decade after decade. What’s going on here? No wonder why nobody votes. You know why they don’t vote? Because there are restrictions everywhere.”

Opponents of the bill countered that New Hampshire is a national leader in voter registration and turnout, and that the new law doesn’t prevent anyone from voting.

“We do a great disservice to the rights of all people to vote by carving out exceptions for certain particular groups that allow them to not comply with the rest of the laws of the state,” said Sen. Bob Giuda, R-Warren. “Our obligation is not to ensure that everyone who sets foot in our boundaries has a right to vote, it’s to ensure that those legally qualified and constitutionally qualified to vote do so.”

Both the residency law and another new voter law are being challenged in court. The second law requires additional documentation from voters who register within 30 days of an election. Supporters argue it will increase trust in elections by requiring people to prove they live where they vote, but opponents argue it is confusing, unnecessary and intimidating. A judge allowed the law to take effect but blocked penalties of a $5,000 fine and a year in jail for fraud while the court challenge is pending.

Both were enacted by Republican Legislatures, but Democrats who now hold majorities want to restore the previous rules.

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