Proposed bill bans student votes
By Marina Villeneuve, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Wednesday, January 26, 2011
State Rep. Gregory Sorg, R-Grafton, proposed legislation that would bar college students in New Hampshire from voting in their college’s town by altering the requirements for voter eligibility, according to the text of the legislation.
The bill changes the definition of domicile, requiring that an individual’s residence for voting eligibility “be the most recent place where he or she as an adult or where his or her parents or legal guardians with whom he or she resided as a minor established physical presence” demonstrating an intention to keep that place as “his, her, or their principal and continuous place of physical presence,” according to the bill.
As students in New Hampshire would be effectively unable to vote in their college’s state, their only voting option would be through an absentee ballot submitted to their primary home residences.
SUPPORT FOR THE BILL
State Rep. Joe Osgood, R-Sullivan, said he supports the proposed legislation because of his concerns that college students who populate small towns for a limited amount of time might make “drastic” and “detrimental” changes to the outcomes of various elections. Students should instead vote with absentee ballots, Osgood said.
“College towns can basically get run by college students who don’t have a vested interest in the town over long periods of time,” Osgood said. “The best thing to do would be for students to vote in their hometowns. There’s nothing stopping them from using an absentee ballot, and it won’t make it more difficult to vote.”
Osgood said he also supported the decision to make “persons employed in the service of the United States” ineligible to vote in New Hampshire under the proposed legislation.
The legislation would also help reduce voter fraud, an issue New Hampshire Republicans have been concerned with for years, Osgood said.
Although Osgood said he has not personally seen any evidence of voter fraud, he said he “would be very confident in believing that, especially in the south end of the state, people use their campground address for same-day voting.” These individuals are “fully voting illegally,” Osgood said.
The American college system, which “tends to breed liberalism” among young people, is detrimental to the political landscape across the country, Osgood said.
“I think it’s destroying the country, if I’m telling you the truth,” Osgood said.
Although several opponents to the legislation interviewed by The Dartmouth said that a college student’s mailbox indicates permanent residency, Osgood said that “a mailbox residency is different from voter residency.”
The legislation does not conflict with the 26th Amendment, which granted citizens over the age of 18 the right to vote, according to Osgood. Similar legislative attempts will likely be made across the country, Osgood said.
“I would expect multiple states to pursue this, especially now since people with common sense are in the legislature,” he said. “You’ll probably see voter rules that were pretty lax getting tightened up. It’s about time we did it.”
The State New Hampshire GOP Committee said they would “defer to Speaker Will O’Brien on this issue.” O’Brien’s office and Sorg did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
OPPOSITION TO THE BILL
The proposed changes target students because of a Republican belief that students “vote too liberal, don’t have sufficient life experience and vote with their emotions,” State Rep. David Pierce, D-Grafton, said, citing a speech delivered by State Rep. William O’Brien, R-Hillsborough, last week. O’Brien currently serves as speaker for the New Hampshire House of Representatives.
Pierce said several representatives have used the example of Vanessa Sievers ’10, who served as treasurer for Grafton Country from 2009 to 2011, to demonstrate the “need for disallowing college students to vote,” he said. Sievers was asked to resign from her position after missing too many County Executive Committee meetings, The Dartmouth previously reported.
“I honestly don’t see that logic,” Pierce said. “If you’re worried about college students serving in office, regulate who can serve in office, not who can or cannot vote for office.”
Pierce said he has not seen any statistical evidence of voter fraud, though he had heard of allegations.
“I have personally never read about any fraud by college students,” he said. “To the extent that there’s been a problem, it’s a result of a mistake or inadvertence, or some innocuous reason, not with an intent to commit voter fraud.”
The legislation violates the 26th Amendment in that it “denies a class of people who are otherwise qualified to vote,” Pierce said.
“This country has a history of depriving a whole class of people the right to vote because of the way they vote,” Pierce said. “The whole idea that we should deprive students of their right to vote because they vote liberal is quite chilling, because what you’re saying is that unless you agree with what the government says, you’re not going to vote. I think that’s what they do in Iran and China, not New Hampshire.”
The “scariest” part of the legislation, according to Pierce, is that it appears to be a Republican attempt to silence voters rather than seek their votes.
“It’s the government choosing the voters rather than voters choosing the government,” he said.
Paul Twomey, an attorney who often represents the state Democratic Party, said the legislation is “short-sighted” and an “effort to disenfranchise young people.”
“While there’s continuously been efforts to make it more difficult for students to vote, there’s been nothing as wildly extreme as this,” he said.
The legislation also excludes federal employees and military personnel who are posted in New Hampshire from voting in the state due to the lack of a “rational way to distinguish between service people and others who come in for an indefinite period of time,” according to Twomey.
Twomey pointed to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which he said determined “there can’t be different tests for voting for different groups of people.”
“In the last eight or nine years, efforts to discourage student voting have become more focused and used more scare tactics about requiring drivers licenses at polling places, which were not particularly effective,” Twomey said. “This comes right out and tries to stop students from voting.”
Twomey, who testified in favor of a bill that mandated an investigation of voter fraud, said the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s investigation of voter fraud in both the 2006 and 2008 elections showed no “instances of voter fraud in New Hampshire.” The two investigations are both available on the department’s website, he said.
The College Democrats, College Republicans and College Libertarians are beginning a united effort to oppose the legislation, according to students interviewed by The Dartmouth and will work together to start a petition drive later this week. They will also research the possible effects of the legislation on broader voting trends in the state.
College Republican President Richard Sunderland III ’11 said the legislation suggests a “generational gap” where people “assume that college students are more liberal.”
“It doesn’t matter whether we’re liberal or conservative — it just isn’t right,” he said. “Whether every college student is liberal or every college student is conservative, every vote gets to count, and you can’t change that.”
Jeremy Kaufmann ’12, president of the New Hampshire College Democrats, said that college students have as much at stake in their communities as local adults do.
“When a law passes statewide, it affects every single one of us,” he said. “But for some reason, just because statistically students tend to vote Democrat, that can somehow remotely be [construed] as justification for this legislation. It’s pretty staggering.”
Students said that the changing residence of individuals is an “uncertain” factor when determining domicile definitions.
“An engineer going through [his master of science in management degree], they’re going to be here six to seven years,” Kaufmann said. “Can the average adult who moves to Concord or Manchester guarantee that they’re going to be here seven years?”
The legislation could also have negative economic consequences as New Hampshire could become an “inhospitable place for students,” who might feel more inclined to leave after graduation rather than stay to help produce economic growth, Colin Harris ’13, political director for Dartmouth’s College Democrats, said.
“Disenfranchising a group of voters because you disagree with them is very reminiscent of Southern Democrats voting against black voters,” he said.
The focus on absentee ballots could prove detrimental to student voting, Kaili Lambe ’09, president of the Young Democrats of New Hampshire, said.
“Every state has a different deadline for absentee ballots,” she said. “Students might miss those deadlines and wouldn’t be able to vote in the election.”
President of Plymouth State University College Democrats Amber Barbagallo said that students are more involved with their colleges’ towns than politicians acknowledge.
“I think people underestimate the fact that college students really do know what’s going on in their town,” Barbagallo said.
University of New Hampshire College Democrats President Ally Priest said that the legislation would also make voting difficult for college students who are also residents of New Hampshire.
“The thing is, election day always falls on a work or school day, so most kids wouldn’t take time to drive back to their home town and vote,” Priest said. “It’s not like parents will take them home to vote.”
Josiette White, New Hampshire state director of America Votes, said the legislation would limit civic participation.
“If people start voting at young age, it becomes a habit,” White said. “If that opportunity isn’t available to them in the place they’re living, it creates a type of feeling about the role civic image plays in the life of an individual and the community.”