Editorial: Students refute HB 176

Opposition’s argument has failed to evolve

By TNH Editorial Staff
On March 1, 2011

On Thursday, the saga of New Hampshire House Bill 176, which would redefine voting domiciles for college students and effectively bar them from voting in their college towns, continued, as students and others protested outside the statehouse and testified at the hearing for the bill.

In the process, they discovered that the opposition's argument has failed to evolve beyond its partisan, blatantly unconstitutional beginnings.

In January, the proposal took a controversial turn when Speaker of the House William O'Brien (R-Hillsborough) told a group of conservative activists that college students registering to vote on Election Day "are basically doing what I did when I was a kid and foolish, voting as a liberal."

"I look at towns like Plymouth and Keene and Hanover, and particularly Plymouth," O'Brien said. "They've lost the ability to govern themselves."

That argument has not progressed. According to the New Hampshire Union Leader, Rep. Gregory Sorg (R-Easton), the sponsor of the bill, referred to college students as"transient inmates . . . with a dearth of experience and a plethora of the easy self-confidence that only ignorance and inexperience can produce."

No doubt that Sorg and O'Brien became even more afraid of the student vote on Thursday, as they witnessed the willingness of said students to come out to combat their vitriolic remarks. We commend the students from UNH and other New Hampshire universities who turned out in Concord.

According to NYU Law School's Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan think tank that focuses on voting access and election law, if HB 176 is passed, New Hampshire would go from being one of 24 states with student-friendly laws to having the most restrictive registration law in the country.

Additional arguments that have managed to progress beyond O'Brien and Sorg's apparent lack of one have fallen short. No one has been able to point out the significant voting fraud that HB 176 would allegedly prevent. The alleged hijacking of local elections by college students to elect one of their own has a whopping one example to support it, and there have been a great deal more ineffective politicians than that in this state's history.

Ironically, the appeasement of college students is vital to the future success of this state and university system. In April 2009, the governor established the Task Force on Young Worker Retention, which suggests a crisis of a sort in the state. The recommendations of this task force resulted in the creation of New Hampshire's 55 percent initiative, which looked to increase the percentage of University System of New Hampshire graduates that elect to stay in the state from 50 to 55 percent. Last year, this further evolved into the Stay Work Play N.H. initiative, which seeks to communicate to 20 to 30-year-olds what the state can offer them.

Voting disenfranchisement is not one of the issues they highlighted.

New Hampshire needs young workers, and this university system, which is already scraping the bottom of the barrel and raising the cost of attendance by $1,328 for next year, cannot survive if out-of-state-students elect to not pay the extra premium it costs them to attend, which subsidizes the education of everyone else. It is those out-of-state students who would be most effected by this proposed bill.

O'Brien, Sorg and other supporters of HB 176 certainly must have expected the turnout in Concord last week, given their apparent fear of the youth's political power. It makes one think: if they are interested in more college students voting in ways they see fit, this probably wasn't the way to do it.

Let's hope this proposed bill is dead in the water.

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