N.H. House passes bill for controversial change to voter eligibility

  • 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 staff) Elizabeth Frantz

Monitor staff
Published: 3/6/2018 9:31:22 PM

The New Hampshire House has advanced a bill that could create a residency requirement for voting in the Granite State, in a move bringing the highly contested legislation a step closer to the governor’s desk.

Voting nearly entirely along party lines, 171-144, representatives passed House Bill 1264 on Tuesday and sent it on to the Senate. The bill would make equal the definitions of a “resident” and a “domiciled” person under state law, which currently carry distinct meanings.

It’s a simple change, but one that could ripple through New Hampshire’s election system. In many interpretations of the bill, the new language could render voting equivalent to declaring residency in the state.

Currently, voters need only to prove they are domiciled, meaning they have established a physical presence in the state “more than any other place.” Under the bill, many say, those domiciled could need to prove “residency,” which would carry burdens like registering one’s vehicle and having a driver’s license in the Granite State.

Democrats have called the bill a de facto “poll tax” that targets vehicle-owning college students, many of whom who can currently vote as “domiciled” and may be forced to register that vehicle and obtain a driver’s license. Republicans have brushed off that charge, calling any registration fees a natural consequence of living in the state and unrelated to the ballot box.

The battle has played out for months over a different bill – House Bill 372 – with nearly identical wording. That bill passed the Senate in January; each chamber will receive the other’s version on March 22 – legislative crossover day.

It remains unclear whether Gov. Chris Sununu would sign either bill. In a leaked video released in December, the governor was recorded telling a young activist that he “hate(d) it.”

But publicly he has stayed silent, saying he will weigh in when the bill is finalized.

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

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