Regina Birdsell and James Gray: New voter residency law is good for all Granite Staters

Published: 7/15/2018 12:10:10 AM

After the New Hampshire House of Representatives and Senate passed a bill aligning the definition of residence, residency, inhabitant and domicile for voting purposes (House Bill 1264), Gov. Chris Sununu requested an advisory opinion from the state Supreme Court on the constitutionality of the legislation. On Thursday, the New Hampshire Supreme Court offered their opinion that the new law would be constitutional if signed into law.

It is important to recognize that from the beginning opponents of the legislation were throwing baseless claims of unconstitutionality, calling the removal of four words from current statute a post-election poll tax. The Supreme Court opinion clearly knocks down these claims as arguments that “misconstrue the purpose and effect of HB 1264.” In our view, any rhetoric that suggests HB 1264 will make it more difficult for students to vote does far more to disenfranchise voters.

The legislation is clear and concise. The intent is to clarify our laws and to level the playing field for everyone voting in New Hampshire so some people do not have to abide by one set of rules while others play by their own. No single person is disenfranchised by this law, and we would never support a law that disenfranchised a legal voter. Anyone who has previously voted here will continue to be able to vote and there are no added barriers for students, the elderly, or members of the military, as claimed by opponents.

By ensuring that every person who chooses New Hampshire as their domicile for voting purposes is subject to the same laws as every other resident of the state, we can finally align our voting laws with 49 other states, including our neighbors Vermont, Maine and Massachusetts. More important than bringing our election laws in line with the rest of the country, HB 1264 will clarify and simplify voter eligibility laws reducing the confusion that exists today. Anyone who casts a ballot in a New Hampshire community should have a vested interest in that community, plain and simple.

A voter ID law was passed in 2011 and opponents of the legislation rallied around unfounded claims that it would disenfranchise voters, but the opposite has been true. Since then, New Hampshire has increased voter participation and we suggest this bill, HB 1264, will have the same effect.

New Hampshire House, Senate and county races are regularly won or lost by one, two or three votes. This is reason enough to be smart and vigilant in making sure that everyone who can legally vote in the state has the opportunity to do so and those who only want to claim domicile for voting purposes live by the same rules as all others who vote here. The Supreme Court agrees with our opinion that the state has a compelling interest in “insuring that those allowed to vote in this state share a community of interest with the population generally.”

Further, the Supreme Court opinion insists that “insuring a community of interest among voters and residents promotes confidence in political outcomes and guards against a distortion of the political community.”

We are hopeful that the Supreme Court advisory opinion that this legislation is constitutional will lay to rest the false narrative and scare tactics being employed to fear monger and dissuade people from voting. Those claiming this law would have a “chilling” effect on voters better start warming up to the idea that this bill is constitutional and good for New Hampshire.

We are very proud of the work that has been done by the House of Representatives and the Senate to get this important piece of legislation to the desk of Gov. Sununu. We continue to believe that bringing more integrity and accountability to the voting booth will create a stronger New Hampshire for all who call the Granite State home.

(Regina Birdsell, a Hampstead Republican, represents District 19 in the New Hampshire Senate. James Gray, a Rochester Republican, represents District 6 in the New Hampshire Senate. )

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