Students and residents react to proposed bill
By Marina Villeneuve, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Wednesday, February 2, 2011
While College political groups are taking an increasingly public stance against the proposed New Hampshire bill that would eliminate students from voting in state or local elections, College students and Hanover residents interviewed by The Dartmouth remain divided on the bill’s potential to hurt or help. Students and residents cited a variety of factors that impact their consideration of the legislation, including alleged voter fraud, increased geographic mobility among college graduates and student interest in local and state politics.
The legislation, House Bill 176, attempts to redefine residency for voting eligibility in order to return to the “basic principles of ensuring residency” and protect the “integrity of the ballot process,” according to a statement that New Hampshire Speaker of the House William O’Brien, R-Hillsborough, released to The Dartmouth.
“New Hampshire, unlike most states, allows for same-day registration of voters,” he wrote. “This, coupled with a lax definition of residency, creates an environment in which students may be claiming residency in multiple locations.”
The College Democrats, College Republicans and College Libertarians are continuing efforts to establish a multi-partisan stance against the legislation that they hope will include previously uninvolved students, according to members interviewed by The Dartmouth.
A coalition of the College Democrats, Republicans and Libertarians will recruit students interested in testifying at a public hearing against the proposed legislation, New Hampshire College Democrats President Jeremy Kaufmann ’12 said. The date and time of this hearing have yet to be determined, according to Kaufmann.
College political groups have sent a final draft of a petition to Rep. David Pierce, D-Grafton, and hope to distribute it to the Dartmouth campus later this week, he said.
“Then, hopefully, we’ll send it out to other schools in New Hampshire,” Kaufmann said.
College Democrats have researched testimony to gauge “where New Hampshire stands” nationwide in terms of current voter residency requirements, according to Kaufmann.
College Democrats are using outside tools — such as a map that ranks states based on the severity of student voting regulations compiled by the Brennan Center for Justice — a non-partisan public policy institute based at New York University Law School, to analyze current legislation, Kaufmann said.
“Right now, 24 states are ranked green, and New Hampshire is one of them, making it in the mainstream of college voting laws,” he said. “The proposed law — which says that even if you’re uncertain about your future plans you can’t vote — would set it among the most restrictive states.”
New Hampshire is one of six states — including Idaho, Maine, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Wyoming — that currently allows same-day voter registration. Any students currently enrolled in higher education institutions can choose their residency to be their college or hometown, according to a joint study conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the California Institute of Technology.
The legislation, sponsored by State Rep. Gregory Sorg, R-Grafton, is based on the principle of “one man, one vote,” according to O’Brien’s statement.
“[A]ny one person should only be able to claim residency in one location — that’s common sense,” according to the statement. “Our goal is to tighten the statute so that everyone can be assured that those who are voting have a long-term interest in the communities where they cast their ballot.”
State Rep. Joe Osgood, R-Sullivan, said he supports the legislation due to concerns that college students who populate small towns for a limited time might make “drastic” and “detrimental” changes to the outcomes of various elections. Students from outside of Hanover should instead vote in their hometown elections through absentee ballots, he said in an interview with The Dartmouth.
When asked about the impact of student voters on local town politics, citizens of Hanover and nearby towns interviewed by The Dartmouth expressed mixed reactions.
“I haven’t seen negative side effects,” Peter Milliken, a Hanover resident, said. “If a college student is a resident, he or she should chose where they want to vote.”
Mike Cahoon, a Vermont resident who recently visited Hanover, said he has witnessed negative aspects of college student voting.
“I saw [detrimental effects] a few years ago, when a Dartmouth student was elected Grafton County Treasurer,” he said, referring to Vanessa Sievers ’10, who was elected to the position. “It was an interesting idea, but she didn’t really seem committed to the town.”
Sievers said that attacks on her position were intended to “further this existing agenda” of combatting alleged voter fraud.
“My position did not fuel the creation of this bill,” she wrote in an e-mail to The Dartmouth.
Cahoon said if students were “committed to learning about and engaging with the political process” in Hanover, they should be allowed to vote in the county.
Tim Smith, a physics and astronomy professor at the College and a local Boy Scout troop leader, labeled the legislation “misguided.”
“There’s a few misconceptions it seems to be based on,” he said. “One is the influence of college students, who actually have much less influence on these town elections then people seem to think.”
In 2008, Sievers was accused of “brainwash[ing] college kids” to vote for the Democratic party by her opponent Carol Elliott, the Valley News previously reported. Sievers beat Elliott by 2,438 votes in Hanover and 411 votes in Plymouth, where Plymouth State University is located, the Valley News reported.
Smith said Sievers’ election coincided with a surge in the national popularity of the Democratic party. Many of the residents who voted for her also likely voted for President Barack Obama, he said.
In Hanover, 6,140 people voted for Obama and Vice President Joe Biden in the general election compared to 1,328 votes for their opponents, Sen.John McCain, R-Ariz., and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, R-Alaska, according to the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s Election Division website. In Plymouth, 2,703 people voted Democrat while 1,130 voted for the Republican presidential ticket.
Smith dismissed the idea that college students committed voter fraud, and said that such alleged fraud could be committed by “anybody who moves.”
He cited the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s investigation of voter fraud in the 2006 and 2008 elections, both of which are available on the department’s website. Fraudulent registration or voting did not occur in the state’s 2008 general election, according to the 2008 report.
“They check students the same as others,” Smith said. “It seems to be this is all sour grapes because Republicans lost a seat — I think the statistics just don’t warrant the legislation.”
The new bill’s attempt to limit the franchisement of students sets a dangerous precedent, according to government professor Russell Muirhead.
“Making it more difficult for any significant segment of the population to exercise its right to vote frees officials from the burden of accountability, and is a step in the wrong direction,” Muirhead wrote in an e-mail to The Dartmouth.
Of 50 students interviewed by the Dartmouth, 19 students said they were registered in Hanover, 19 said they voted by absentee ballot in their hometowns and 12 students said they were not registered. Students who opposed the bill said that students living in the state should be able to vote on legislation that will affect their daily lives.
“We still live here for four years,” Roanna Wang ’13 said. “What happens with legislation affects us.”
Ryan Collins ’13, originally a resident of Hanover, said he does not think college students’ votes have negatively affected the town.
“[Students are] always really excited for elections,” he said. “Students tend to be younger, more progressive — like to see change.”
Other students said they wondered where certain college students — such as those whose parents moved after they matriculated — should vote.
Students who live far from the College and who have been removed from their home communities for long periods of time due to summer internships and foreign study programs may have insufficient knowledge about issues in their home districts, Kevin Estrada ’11 said.
Those in support of the bill cited a lack of general knowledge about community values among college students as a reason for students to vote in their hometowns.
“I think a lot of college students are influenced by the academic bubble,” Eunice Lee ’13 said.
Some students also said that attending the College does not constitute a long-term residency in Grafton County.
“We might be educated citizens here, but we have no actual knowledge of living in this community, so we might influence lives without knowing how it affects the community,” Angela Dunnham ’13 said. “It just bothers me.”
Hanover does not maintain records of the number of college student voters separate from the Hanover town population, according to Elizabeth Meade, Hanover’s director of town clerk’s office and tax collector.
In 2008, 53 percent of New Hampshire voters with “some college or associate degree” voted Democrat, as did 61 percent of voters between the ages of 18 and 29, according to a 2008 exit poll conducted by The New York Times.
In Grafton County, 2,863 voters voted for the Democratic party while 17,209 voted Republican in the 2008 state general election, according to New Hampshire Secretary of State statistics.
Nationwide in 2008-2009, about 26.54 percent of individuals aged 20-29 changed their residence in a 12-month period, compared to 26.28 percent in 2007-2008, according to figures compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau. The numbers do not distinguish between reported education levels.