On the trail: Coronavirus spurs new fight over out-of state college student voting eligibility

  • FILE- In this May 22, 2018 file photo, students cross The Green in front of the Baker-Berry Library at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H.  Charles Krupa

For the Monitor
Published: 10/16/2020 3:49:34 PM

The New Hampshire Republican Party this week asked the state Attorney General’s Office to inform city and town clerks not to allow college students from out-of-state who are taking classes remotely at New Hampshire based schools to use their former school addresses when registering to vote or requesting absentee ballots.

“Students who do not live here and have no residence here at the time of the election are not qualified voters,” N.H. GOP attorney Sean R. List wrote in a letter to Attorney General Gordon MacDonald. List argued that college students at New Hampshire institutions who are currently taking classes remotely from outside the state amid the coronavirus pandemic may “no longer claim domicile in New Hampshire for voting purposes.”

State laws allow students from out-of-state who are attending colleges or universities in the Granite State to claim their school address as their legal “domicile for voting purposes.”

The New Hampshire Democratic Party is charging that the move is intended to suppress their votes.

“If you are a U.S. citizen, will be 18 years of age or older by Election Day, and your home is in New Hampshire – even if you are temporarily absent – you can vote in New Hampshire,” New Hampshire Democratic Party spokesperson Holly Shulman wrote in a statement. “These rules apply to all Granite Staters, including college students.”

While the state Republican Party argues that “out-of-state students learning remotely at the time of the election who have no New Hampshire residence are precluded from both in-person and absentee voting in New Hampshire,” they do acknowledge that students who are temporarily absent from New Hampshire but keep a residential address and domicile in the state are allowed to legally vote by absentee ballot.

NextGen, the largest progressive grassroots youth advocacy group in the nation, joined New Hampshire Democrats in criticizing the move by state Republicans.

“This is a ridiculous distraction to scare and confuse young voters at the last minute. The GOP has mishandled COVID, forcing students to uproot their lives and educations, and now is trying to sow confusion in an attempt to suppress their voices when it matters most,” NextGen New Hampshire state director Emma Tyler said.

Absentee balloting far ahead of 2016 pace

The New Hampshire Secretary of State’s office reported this week that 179,054 absentee ballots have so far been requested by Granite State voters and that a record-breaking 78,561 ballots have already been returned.

With just under three weeks to go until Election Day on Nov. 3, the returned ballots already tops the roughly 75,000 voters who cast absentee ballots during the entire 2016 general election.

The surge is due to health concerns over in-person voting at polling stations amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Secretary of State’s office said that ballots have to be received by the clerk by 5 p.m. the day of the election, either through the mail or by dropping them off at selected polling places across the state that have official ballot boxes.

Thanks to a bill passed at the end of June by state lawmakers, pre-processing of the ballots can be performed on the Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Monday before the election.

“that allows the moderators and clerks to open the out envelope and look at the affidavit envelope that actually contains the ballot and make sure the voter signed the affidavit and make sure everything else is in order,” Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan said. “If they find defects, they have an opportunity to contact the voter so the defect can be cured.”

Officials will start counting absentee ballots when the polls close on Election Day.

A 2024 preview?

Four high profile GOP politicians are visiting New Hampshire this month to help President Donald Trump and fellow Republicans as they run in this year’s elections.

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley – who served as U.S. ambassador the to the U.N. during the first two years of the Trump administration – was here at the beginning of October.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem visited on Thursday. And next week Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Tim Scott of South Carolina make stops in the state.

What all four of these politicians have in common is that they’re considered by pundits to be potential contenders for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. And while New Hampshire’s a key general election battleground state, it’s also for a century held the first primary in the race for the White House. The visits are sparking speculation about possible national aspirations.

During her trip to New Hampshire, Noem made a quick visit for breakfast at the Red Arrow Diner in Manchester, which has long been a must-stop for White House hopefuls. The governor spoke with customers and the kitchen staff. And when she arrived at the Trump New Hampshire headquarters to greet staff and volunteers, a woman in the crowd yelled out “Kristi for 2024.”

Noem said her trip to New Hampshire is to emphasize “how important it is that we have President Trump in the White House. If Joe Biden is in the White House, our way of life will be devastated. I honestly believe the policies that he’s embraced will destroy America. So for me that’s important enough to come here and talk face to face with people who may have the chance to turn this state red and take it for President Trump.”

That said, Noem isn’t ruling anything out when it comes to her political future.

“I haven’t even ruled out what I’m doing tomorrow,” she said.

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