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Editorial: Legislating disenfranchisement

Another law seeks to prevent students from voting

The New Hampshire

Published: Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 15:02

As the presidential election nears, advocacy groups around the country are encouraging college students to exercise their constitutional rights and vote on Nov. 6. More than any group, students – and most young adults – are apathetic toward the voting process and politics in general. 

It is unfortunate, then, that the N.H. Legislature continues its attack on the voting rights of college students, continually putting up barriers to undergraduates looking to cast their vote. 

A recently passed law, Senate Bill 318, would require new voters to sign a new registration form declaring New Hampshire as their home and saying that they are subject to all of the laws that apply to state residents. That includes laws requiring drivers to own a New Hampshire driver’s license and to register their cars in the state. 

Here is the exact language of the law: 

“In declaring New Hampshire as my domicile, I am subject to the laws of the state of New Hampshire which apply to all residents, including laws requiring a driver to register a motor vehicle and apply for a New Hampshire’s driver’s license within 60 days of becoming a resident.”

Fortunately, Strafford County Superior Court Judge John Lewis ordered the state to strike that paragraph from the registration forms on Monday. And for good reason: The removed paragraph is so asinine and obvious in its intent that it forces one to question the true motives of the legislators that pushed it through to law. 

The law is clearly aimed at out-of-state students who wish to declare New Hampshire as their domicile in the upcoming election. Any out-of-state student with a vehicle would have to sign that form, even though the student is not otherwise required to register his/her car in New Hampshire or obtain a New Hampshire driver’s license.  If Judge Lewis had not taken action, the law would have taken away an out-of-state students’ right to declare New Hampshire as their domicile. 

Of course, this is nothing new from Republican House Speaker Bill O’Brien and the legislature. 

Back in January 2011, House Republicans spearheaded House Bill 176, which would have barred students from voting in their college towns if they were not originally from that town. 

O’Brien supported HB 176, telling a group of conservative activists at the time 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,” according to the Union Leader

HB 176 was eventually defeated, but O’Brien’s remarks are telling, even today. He is not interested in protecting the voting rights of New Hampshire residents. O’Brien and SB 318’s supporters want to remove a group of voters whom they consider too liberal. 

O’Brien lamented Judge Lewis striking the paragraph on Monday. 

“When individuals find themselves in New Hampshire and know they will leave, they should not vote here,’’ he said. ‘‘Legislating otherwise from the bench to say there are two classes of voters — all of us who reside in New Hampshire and those residents of other states who choose to vote here because we are a battleground state — is judicial activism of the worst sort.’’

O’Brien’s two classes of voters are a figment of his own imagination. Out-of-state college students are not hopping the border to vote in a “battleground state.” They live here, they learn here and they work here. It is SB 318 that creates two different classes of voters: residents of New Hampshire and out-of-state students who have the audacity to only live in the state eight months out of the year and hope to cast a vote in the upcoming election. 

O’Brien and many House Republicans appear to be finding new, more subtle and menacing ways of disenfranchising college students. They could not strip out-of-states students right to vote in New Hampshire two years ago with HB 176, so they slipped a paragraph into new voter registration forms that effectively does the same thing. 

Whomever you support in the upcoming election, Judge Lewis’ decision should be applauded. He prevented an attempt to obstruct many students’ right to vote. Now we just have to wait and see what O’Brien and the legislature come up with next. 

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