The New Hampshire House of Representatives recently passed a bill that could hinder student efforts to claim New Hampshire residency and vote in the next election. The bill, HB 1547, is just one of many recently passed bills aimed at imposing stricter definitions of domicile in an attempt to decrease voter fraud.
Under the bill, those living in hospitals, group homes and nursing homes would confer New Hampshire residency while those living in hotel rooms, jails and college dormitories would not.
“Those of us who have colleges in our district are very concerned about the legislation,” said Sharon Nordgren, a Democratic representative from Hanover.
Republicans, who introduced the voting bills, say that the proposed changes are necessary in order to prevent people from voting in more than one place, which constitutes a felony.
“We need to make sure we have integrity in our voting laws,” said Republican Representative Robert Introne of Londonderry. “There has been suggestion by independent sources that students can be recruited and end up voting in that state when rightfully they should not be voting there.”
Democrats, on the other hand, see the bills as an attempt to disenfranchise college students who live in and go to school in New Hampshire and prevent them from casting largely Democratic votes. Bernie Benn, a House Democrat who represents Hanover, also pointed out that there is an unusually high voter turnout in Keene, Durham and Hanover, all of which are towns with large college student populations.
“Mostly [the Republicans] are upset because they think stopping as many college students as they can from voting will help their ticket,” Nordgern said. “The general theme is that Republicans are trying to intimidate immigrants, people who don’t speak English, college students and low income people and keep them from voting.”
Many Republican members of the New Hampshire House, including Introne, are quick to dispute the assumption that most students are Democrats.
“It’s hard to believe that all college students are Democrats. College students tend to be enlightened, open minded, and they look at both sides before making their decision,” Introne said.
But Democrats point to an incident six years ago that illustrated the strength of the Democratic Party, particularly on Dartmouth’s campus. Introne called the Democratic students “very organized” and “very good at getting out the vote.” At one polling place close to the Dartmouth campus, members of a Republican committee approached students requesting proper residency verification.
“The Republicans challenged every student who came in and most of them voted Democrat because they were so mad at the Republicans. At Dartmouth the word got around campus and more students came and voted for the Democrats,” Introne said.
Currently, Dartmouth students who wish to register to vote in New Hampshire must go to the Hanover town hall, show their driver’s license and sign an affidavit certifying that they claim sole residency in New Hampshire and will not vote anywhere else. Students can register on Election Day at their local polling place.
The proposed bill would also enact stricter rules for the type of driver’s license that would be accepted as valid identification. Under the proposed new law, students would need to obtain a New Hampshire driver’s license in order to register to vote.
Students expressed dissatisfaction with the bill, because they said it make them feel like they are a not a part of either New Hampshire or their home state.
“It seems like college students who want to vote are caught between two worlds: their college and their home communities,” Kathleen Moriarty ’09 said. “Towns don’t like it when returning college students vote for things like increased taxes because the students don’t live there for most of the year.”
Other students at colleges across New Hampshire, including the University of New Hampshire, have expressed dissatisfaction with the proposed residency restrictions. UNH student Josh O’Neill echoed House Democrats, arguing for more liberal definitions of residency.
“New Hampshire is more [a college students’] state than the ones they grew up in, because students live at least nine months out of the year at school,” O’Neill said.
Currently the bill has been passed to the Senate and is awaiting debate and a final vote. Benn, however, is optimistic that the Senate will not pass these bills, which attempt to “disenfranchise college students.” He expressed certainty that New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat, would veto these bills if they reached his desk. Benn also pointed to the implausibility of a veto override due to the small majority under which the bill was passed.
The bills passed along party lines in the House with all Democrats opposing any bills narrowing residency restrictions, Benn said. Republicans hold a large majority of the 400 seats in the House, which includes only 152 Democrats.
Republicans are adamant that the bills are not aimed at college students in particular and are merely trying to avoid the type of fraud that began back in Chicago when deceased voters showed up on the voting rolls, Introne said.
“I would never want to prevent students from voting,” he said. “If they’re valid residents, I want them to vote. If a valid student was going to vote, I’d go out and pick them up and take them to the polls.”