Senate election law committee greenlights N.H. domicile voting bill along party lines

  • Moderator Ewen MacKinnon II drops a set of ballots into the ballot box during voting at the Chichester Grange Hall on Thursday, March 16, 2017. Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor file

  • Senate Minority Leader Jeff Woodburn, D-Whitefield, brandishes a postcard Tuesday, April 24, 2018, that he says he sent to his local library during a debate over New Hampshire’s voting laws. Woodburn said the state’s method of determining whether someone is domiciled in the state – sending a postcard to their address after an election – is flawed because the postcard to his library was returned by mistake. Ethan DeWitt / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 4/24/2018 4:36:24 PM

One of two controversial bills to change the definition of “domicile” for voting purposes cleared a Senate committee Tuesday, heading to the Senate floor next for a make-or-break vote.

In a 3-2, party-line vote, members of the Senate election law committee voted to recommend the bill, House Bill 1264, be passed by the full chamber. The bill would merge the definitions of “domiciled” people and “residents” for the purpose of voting, which supporters say will clear up confusion and bring New Hampshire’s process in line with other states.

Democrats and other critics, meanwhile, say that combining the definitions will require those who vote to be residents, subjecting college students and other temporary residents to car registration fees and driver’s license requirements. Currently, voters are required only to be “domiciled,” meaning they spend a majority of their time in the state; adding residency could create a de facto poll tax in registration fees, critics allege.

Ahead of the vote, discussion followed familiar lines.

Senate Minority Leader Jeff Woodburn, D-Whitefield, declined to mince words, calling the bill “a sly, cynical plot to really put a stink bomb in our process.”

The measure would discourage New Hampshire’s college students from voting, and impose financial penalties on those who do, he argued.

“I just feel this sends the absolute wrong message,” he said.

Sen. Andy Sanborn, R-Bedford, pushed back on the charges that the bill would keep people from the polls.

“There is nothing in this language that says college students will be disenfranchised – they might not want to vote,” he said. “Nothing.’

Rather, Sanborn added, the language tweak would strengthen New Hampshire’s voting protocol and provide for greater confidence in the accuracy of the results.

“I believe we have an obligation to prove to the people of this state that their vote counted,” he said.

The language of the bill is identical to an earlier bill that passed the Senate earlier this year – House Bill 372 – but removes a lengthy purpose statement. Substantively, advocates and critics agree, the effects of HB 1264 remain the same.

The bill now heads to the Senate floor for a likely May 2 vote.

Gov. Chris Sununu has not stated publicly whether he would support the bill.

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



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