10 arrested as students stage State House sit-in to protest voter residency law

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  • Protesters sit in the Secretary of State office before getting arrested on Tuesday, May 7, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • FROM LEFT: Protesters Cal Gross-Santos, Kat Legier, Robby St. Laurent, Emma Chinman and Griffin Sinclair are notified by New Hampshire State Police that they are being arrested for refusing to leave Gov. Chris Sununu’s outer office Tuesday at the State House in Concord. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • Protester Griffin Sinclair sings as he is led out of Gov. Chris Sununu’€™s outer office at the State House on Tuesday. Sinclair graduated from UNH in 2017. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Protesters are led into a makeshift booking area inside the State House in Concord on Tuesday after being arrested during a demonstration over voting rights.

Monitor staff
Published: 5/7/2019 7:13:29 PM

Tuesday’s daylong Senate budget hearing brought in scores of residents and advocates, many pressing for higher spending on education and health care. But one group in the State House had a different agenda.

A student protest-turned-sit-in occupation led to 10 arrests after activists in opposition of recent voting laws declined to leave a pair of offices.

The group, a subset of about a hundred who crammed into the second floor hallway to sing songs, occupied parts of the offices of Secretary of State Bill Gardner and Gov. Chris Sununu until closing hours Tuesday. The cause: support for House Bill 106, a Democratic bill to establish a motor vehicle registration exemption for college students voting as residents in the Granite State.

Crossing legs and clapping hands, demonstrators pressed Sununu and Gardner to support that bill, which would roll back the effects of a Republican-backed residency law that’s proven a lightening rod for student activists. Sununu and Gardner, both strong supporters of last year’s bill, made no appearances. Office hours ended, activists were warned and state troopers were called in.

By 5:30 p.m., two groups of five students had been arrested, booked and released with a request for summons on disorderly conduct charges.

The civil disobedience, planned weeks ahead, was part of a nearly two-year opposition campaign on the left against House Bill 1264, a headline bill last year that redefined the definition of residency in New Hampshire. By removing certain language, HB 1264 made casting a ballot a potential act of residency in the state.

Opponents have said the law effectively mandates college students, who previously needed only be “domiciled,” to register cars upon voting, likening the effect to a “poll tax.” Supporters have defended the law as putting all voters on the same playing field when it comes to motor vehicle laws, and say it brings New Hampshire in line with other states with similar residency voting requirements.

House Bill 103, submitted this year, would create a de facto carve-out for college students to avoid motor vehicle fees if voting, a mechanism some states have implemented.

From the moment of its passage, HB 1264 has drawn political and legal firestorm. The bill, which goes into effect in July, has been challenged in U.S. District Court in Concord by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire, which could affect its implementation at the time of the New Hampshire presidential primaries next year.

But despite months of regular demonstrations and petitions around the law, Tuesday’s action of civil disobedience was new for the demonstrators.

The hallway demonstration, which included speeches and songs, was jointly organized by three groups: NextGen, New Hampshire Young Democrats and the New Hampshire Youth Movement, a progressive alternative that’s recently swept college campuses. But the civil disobedience was organized solely by the latter group, organizers said.

State police and State House security officers were notified ahead of time; a group of them gathered ahead of the arrests in the building cafeteria.

Students were booked – but not handcuffed – in a Senate hearing room, then released by police. They face a summons to appear at a later date.

A spokesman for Sununu did not respond to a request for comment.

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