Domicile Donnybrook: New Hampshire Goes to Court Over Student Voting Law


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A few weeks ago, I got an email from a professor in a college town who reported hearing a rumor that the local county attorney was going to require students to get an in-state drivers’ license to prove residency if they registered to vote at their college address. I dug around in the relevant state election law and discovered that no such requirement existed anywhere in the statute, regulations or case law – but before I could get back to him he wrote back and said that it had indeed been just a rumor and the county attorney had no such plans.

I chalked it up to the general “election panic” that begins to set in as Election Day approaches … but then I saw this week that a judge had struck down a New Hampshire law that would have done just that:

Judge John Lewis issued an order Monday telling Secretary of State William Gardner to issue new voter registration forms and delete a paragraph advising that all voters must register their car in New Hampshire and have a New Hampshire license.

The New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union filed an injunction against the law on behalf of four college students who live outside New Hampshire.

Lewis’ decision also orders Gardner to post information on the secretary of state’s website informing town and city officials they have to use the new voter registration forms immediately, according to a release from the ACLU.

New Hampshire is no stranger to fights about student voting; last year, the new Speaker of the House was taped suggesting that out-of-state students lack sufficient ties and maturity to cast ballots in the state. The new state law would certainly make it more difficult for students to claim voting residency by attaching other requirements to it – requirements that ultimately convinced the county court to overturn the law. Supporters of the bill have vowed to appeal.

I’ve already covered the issues of student voting and domicile here on the blog, but the New Hampshire case raises a couple of questions that I didn’t see in the discussion of the case: how many non-student New Hampshire voters don’t have cars registered in the state or an in-state drivers’ license, and is the percentage comparable to the student population? If the law is ultimately upheld, will it apply to all voters or just students and if the latter, is that constitutional?

The dispute in the Granite State is just the latest episode in America’s struggle to define what it means to be resident of a community in an increasingly mobile nation – but I wonder if the effort to dissuade “non-residents” could wind up catching lots of would-be “residents” as well. If so, New Hampshire’s motor vehicles division should get ready for some extra business.

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