New Hampshire Attorney General to state Republican Party: Out of state college students can vote absentee in New Hampshire

Monitor staff
Published: 10/21/2020 7:52:33 PM

New Hampshire’s Attorney General’s Office has rejected a request by the state Republican Party to prevent college students from voting in New Hampshire if they returned to their out-of-state homes because of the pandemic.

On Wednesday, the Attorney General’s Office maintained that state law allows college students who have established a domicile in New Hampshire to vote in the Granite State – even if they return home temporarily.

“Once a student lawfully establishes domicile in New Hampshire under RSA 654:1, I, the student does not lose his or her domicile due to temporary absence,” Assistant Attorney General Nicholas Chong Yen said in a letter sent to the Republican Party.

That’s long been the case for out-of-state students who study on campus in non-pandemic times; even if they head home for the summer, they may vote in New Hampshire if their live in New Hampshire throughout the school year.

But with the COVID-19 pandemic prompting many students to return to their home states and study remotely, the Republican Party had argued that those students had forfeited their domicile, and had asked the attorney general to direct election officials to prevent them from voting in New Hampshire.

In an Oct. 15 letter to the attorney general, the party laid out that argument: “Students who do not live here and have no residence here at the time of the election are not qualified voters.”

The Republican letter sought to distinguish between students who had lost their claim to domicile from students who have maintained a residence but are “temporarily absent” from the state.

The Attorney General’s Office rebuffed that argument Wednesday, pointing to state statute that defines who is domiciled and who gets to vote.

“Any person – including a student – who has established a domicile in New Hampshire consistent with RSA 654:1, I & I-a, but who is temporarily absent from the State by virtue of the COVID-19 pandemic or any other reason, remains domiciled within the State unless he or she establishes domicile elsewhere,” the letter stated.

But the office did note a key exception: In order to be eligible to vote, by absentee ballot or in person, students must have established a physical presence in the state to begin with.

That means an out-of-state student studying remotely at a New Hampshire college or university who had not yet established that physical presence before the pandemic would not yet be eligible to vote, the office noted.

“A person who has never established a physical presence in New Hampshire cannot be domiciled in the State for voting purposes,” the letter added.

That distinction does not affect students who have lived at their colleges before.

The requests from the Republican Party reflect the latest skirmish in the years-long battle between the parties over voting processes for college students. Election results indicate that college towns in New Hampshire tilt heavily toward Democratic candidates – sometimes in margins wide enough to determine statewide elections.

Democratic and Republican lawmakers have clashed over legislative efforts to define who counts as a New Hampshire resident for voting purposes, with the two sides seeking to maximize or minimize the college vote in the process.

In a statement Wednesday, a spokeswoman for the New Hampshire Democratic Party, Holly Shulman, called the Republican request “voter suppression” aimed “to stop people who don’t agree with them from voting.”

“Today’s Attorney General letter confirms that this is all their latest ploy is – another trick – with no basis in law nor reality,” Shulman said.

The Republicans’ letter brought the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire into the fray, which has aligned with the Democratic Party in recent years on a series of lawsuits against Republican-backed voting bills.

In its own letter to the Attorney General Tuesday, ACLU staff attorney Henry Klementowicz said that the Republicans’ request contradicted New Hampshire law and “coming 15 days before an election, would needlessly inject chaos and confusion into the final two weeks of voting.”

The New Hampshire Republican Party had not responded to the letter by press time.

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at 369-3307, edewitt@cmonitor.com, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)




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