Out-of-state students to maintain voting rights
Published: Monday, September 24, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 16:02
CONCORD — A judge on Monday cleared the way for out-of-state college students to continue voting in New Hampshire, ordering the state to change its new voter registration form before the November elections.
Students traditionally have been allowed to declare the state their home without holding legal residency, which involves an intent to stay for an extended period of time. And in 1972, a federal judge ruled that the state could not forbid out-of-state students from voting in New Hampshire, even if they planned to leave after graduation.
But under a law passed this year, new voters would have been required to sign a statement saying they declare New Hampshire their home and are subject to laws that apply to all residents, including laws requiring drivers to register cars and get a New Hampshire driver’s license. The statement doesn’t specifically require students to be residents, but makes them subject to hundreds of laws involving residency.
Strafford County Superior Court Judge John Lewis ordered the state to issue new voter registration forms without that paragraph, saying it was at odds with state law and would have a ‘‘clear, harmful effect’’ on the voting rights of college students and others.
The law, which was passed over Democratic Gov. John Lynch’s veto, was challenged by the League of Women Voters of New Hampshire and four students represented by the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union.
‘‘We are very pleased the judge agreed with our concern that students who come to college in New Hampshire might give up their right to vote because of concerns about registering a car and getting a New Hampshire driver’s license even when they knew they would leave after graduation,’’ said Joan Flood Ashwell, election law specialist for the League of Women Voters of New Hampshire.
Republican House Speaker Bill O’Brien criticized the ruling, saying it takes away the rights of state residents by allowing non-residents to decide presidential, state and local elections.
‘‘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.’’
Noting that the legislation had the support of Secretary of State Bill Gardner, Senate President Peter Bragdon said it was unfortunate that the ruling made it easier for out-of-state residents to vote in New Hampshire.