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Proposed bill would bar students from voting in college towns

Executive Editor

Published: Thursday, January 27, 2011

Updated: Friday, January 28, 2011 02:01

A bill introduced in the New Hampshire House of Representatives earlier this month would bar college students from voting in their college towns unless they resided there before enrolling.

House Bill 176, which was introduced by Rep. Gregory Sorg (R- Grafton County) would amend RSA 654-2 to include a new section entitled "Voters Attending Institutions of Learning."

The section would require that "the domicile for voting purposes" of a college student would be the town or city "in which such person had his or her domicile immediately prior to matriculation … even though his or her intent to return thereto is uncertain."

Currently, students are able to choose their hometown or their college town as their domicile.

"The reasoning behind this bill is that issues differ by state," Michael Weeden (R-Strafford), a UNH sophomore, said. "Many college students are more knowledgeable of the issues where they are a domicile, rather then where they attend college."

The proposal took a controversial turn following comments made by Speaker of the House William O'Brien (R-Hillsborough) to a group of conservative activists.

According to the New Hampshire Union Leader, O'Brien told the group 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."

O'Brien and Sorg did not respond to requests for comment.

Weeden distanced himself from O'Brien's remarks.

"My support of this bill is not based on voting tendencies of college students," he said. "I want to ensure that a student's vote counts where they will reside long term, not just where they reside for the semester."

Durham resident Rep. Judith Spang (D-Strafford) put her position much more simply in an e-mail exchange on Wednesday.

"I think this bill is an insult to democracy," she said.

Durham resident Rep. Timothy Horrigan (D-Strafford) said that the bill was an attempt by House Republicans to make it harder for people to vote.

"It's a bad idea to get people out of the habit of voting," Horrigan said. "People already think it's a difficult process."

Weeden disagreed with the idea that the bill would have that effect.

"Any student who takes their right to vote seriously will be willing to take their time to vote via absentee ballot," he said.

O'Brien and other supporters have classified the bill's attempt to redefine "domicile" as part of their plans to stem voting fraud in the state.

"I believe that both parties should be aware that voter fraud exists and that efforts are needed to prevent voting fraud in the state," Weeden said. "The citizens of New Hampshire deserve accurate election results."

Horrigan said there has been no substantial evidence of voting fraud in the state.

"[The bill] is directed toward students," he said. "The speaker said he didn't like the way that students voted."

Horrigan believes that the bill violates the federal Voting Rights Act, as well as the federal and state constitution.

One court ruling that opponents of the legislation cite is 1972's "Newburger vs. Peterson," which ruled "that you can't require that there be an intent to stay in a state, either permanently or indefinitely."

Although the bill is controversial, both sides acknowledge that it has a chance of passing, given that Republicans control 297 of 400 seats in the House.

"I believe that HB 176 will pass the legislature," Weeden said.

Horrigan said the House "may very well pass it," but that the Senate is "much more pragmatic," and that he expected a court challenge. He also said that Republican candidates visiting the state for the upcoming presidential primaries wouldn't want to find themselves in the midst of a voting rights controversy.

Horrigan believes that there are numerous holes in the bill, which he called a "throwback to the disenfranchisement of the 1950's and 60's," that would not stand up in court.

"The way it's written is somewhat unenforceable," he said. "They can't prove if you're a student or not if you live off-campus.

"[Students are] as much a part of the community as anyone else," Horrigan added.

UNH College Republicans President Robert Johnson took a different approach, saying that the bill is constitutional, but that legislators should focus on the economy and the budget.

"New Hampshire reserves the right to define what constitutes a New Hampshire resident, and thus who votes in New Hampshire," Johnson said. "With that said, I do not think that this is an appropriate time to work on this issue."

Durham Town Administrator Todd Selig said that he became aware of the proposed legislation last week, and that the Town Council did not get a chance to discuss the measure at its Monday on meeting.

"The council has had no conversation on it and Durham has no position on it," he said in a phone interview yesterday.

However, his description of town government did not suggest a town unable to govern itself, as O'Brien said. Of the town's 22 boards and committees, UNH undergraduate students hold positions on only one of them; two students are on the town's Rental Housing Commission.    

He said that students are primarily interested in voting in federal elections.

"There is usually very little interest in voting in the state-wide elections," Johnson said. "There is hardly any involvement in the local elections."

Selig said that some Durham residents have expressed fears of students "overwhelming the polls and sweeping in a slate of their own candidates," but that "in actual practice, that has not come to pass."

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Jocelyn Gallant
Mon Jul 2 2012 20:29
I Support HB 176 that students are not residents in NH they should not be allow to vote in our state. House Speaker O;Brian is right I could not agree more that is the right direction. I thank the Legislator for over riding Governor John Lynch's veto.
I am support Ovue Lamentations for governor
Mon Jul 2 2012 20:22
Hay it;s fair. I like the bill that no resident student should not be allow to vote include those are in pres ion, nursing home and other institution should not have that right to vote that what got us in this miss we are in today. If not resident in NH then you should not vote in this state because is not your home is like baking into someones home. America face massive tax increases to pay of Obama missive of healthcare.
Wed Mar 9 2011 01:36
These Republicans/tea partiers are lying and bullshiting completely. O'Brien said how they feel. Left wingers don't vote correctly (as far right is the only correct way to vote.) We'll have a Glenn Beck nation if they get their way. I hope people see that.
Tue Mar 8 2011 21:56
One reason relatively liberal college students have become more numerous in New Hampshire is because the state is last in the nation in support to higher education. The percentage of out-of-state students, paying much higher tuitions, is therefore steadily rising. I'm not clear that the proposed law makes it harder for college students to become New Hampshire residents, but if it does, that sounds like the very same issue that led to the real Tea Party in the 1770's. "Please come here and pay your full-boat tuition, but don't become one of us, and for God's sake don't vote!" When college students vote with their feet against that deal, the foolish person in this discussion will have proven to be Mr. O'Brien.
Thu Feb 24 2011 01:00
Why not largely base voting rights on where the student's (or family members) primary transportation is registered. If the Student has registered their (or family member's) vehicle, and paid NH taxes in NH, then they are a NH citizen. If the student's vehicle is registered out of state then, they are not.

In case they don't own, or use a family member's vehicle then, if they spend more than 50% of their time in this state, AND are paying NH taxes only then should they be considered a legal resident with a vote. If their parents are claiming them on another states tax form then they should be considered by NH as non residents without voting rights. If the student is paying resident taxes in another state then they are residents of that state.

Mon Jan 31 2011 07:44
How is this even enforceable? Say I'm from Milwaukee and I get accepted to UNH, do undergrad in 5 years, take a couple of years to get a master's, then go on to medical school. That's over a decade during which I'm subject to state and local laws within NH, dependent on essential municipal services like police and fire protection for a *minimum* of nine months out of 12 for each of those years -- and I get no say in deciding who makes those laws and administers those services? I'm supposed to check a box on the NH form and mail an absentee ballot to participate in primaries and elections in a community 1,000 miles away that's all but unaccountable to me for anything it does? That's responsible.

Sure, go ahead, NH - but make sure that you properly adjust your 2010 census tally and give up whatever proportional representation in the US House that you're essentially disenfranchising. Same goes for extra Medicaid funding, Dept of Transportation grants, and any other federal gravy train based on population estimates. Also, give students who rebates for electricity and communications taxes and for the proportion of their rent that covers state and local property taxes - since students will have no say in how these funds are spent. If you're going to outsource the votes, you should outsource the benefits that come with them.

Mon Jan 31 2011 01:25
Pft. Political games, not even subtle ones. So intent on suppressing voter fraud, but they only seem interested in targeting a demographic that votes Liberal. I can understand the notion behind trying to keep only NH citizens voting in NH but the entire idea just smacks of trying to stomp out the left wing vote. They'll try and couch it in as much word game as they can, but it's all about demographic manipulation. All you gotta do is look with even half-hearted intent at the kinds of bills that Republicans want so badly to pass to realize that they don't give a crap about you - they want you to vote for them, they want your money, and they want tax breaks. They don't want you putting into power any pesky liberals who might actually try and jack up taxes to fix the awful budget deficit that the nice, caring old people have so lovingly foisted on the shoulders of their children.

Voter repression. Don't accept it NH.

Fight the MAN.

Mon Jan 31 2011 01:08
Mr. P, if you don't think this is a partisan issue you obviously didn't read the article. The Speaker of the House outlined his reasons for the bill on solely partisan terms, stop being willfully ignorant.
Sun Jan 30 2011 21:39
This bill is disgusting, what about those students from out of state who traditionally vote here? Are you really going to make them drive or fly home for ONE day just so they can fulfill their right to vote as American citizens? I agree with Rep. Judith Spang: This bill is unconstitutional and "an insult to democracy."
Sun Jan 30 2011 16:06
I think it is unfair for college towns to take away the rights of students. Especially considering how much of the town's economy depends on those students, both as customers of local businesses, and as customers of the school which provides jobs and tax revenue for the town to benefit from.

Try seeing how well your college town fairs if all the students leave, THEN tell me if their rights deserve to be subverted.

Sun Jan 30 2011 16:04
Another issue with this bill: if you actually read it, it targets anyone who comes to New Hampshire to matriculate at an institute of learning. That doesn't just mean undergraduate students. It also means phD candidates, medical school students, students enrolled in business school, students enrolled in engineering graduate programs. A lot of these students are older, a good number with children. Admittedly, such students are more likely to rent off campus townhouses or apartments, but a number do also live in college or university provided housing. Even if they do live off campus, because they came to New Hampshire to attend an institute of learning, it would be illegal for them to vote in New Hampshire. It seems entirely undemocratic to tell someone who moves to New Hampshire to enroll for some kind of graduate degree that, even if they might live here for the next five or more years and even if they send their children to New Hampshire schools, it is still illegal for them to vote in New Hampshire.

This is also problematic for undergraduates whose parents move to another state after that undergraduate has started college in New Hampshire (pretty common, especially after the youngest child leaves the nest). This means that the student cannot vote in the town where he or she is spending the next four years, and must instead vote in a state where he has in fact never spent more than two or three weeks during christmas break. Not a resident of the state where he grew up anymore, so can't vote there. Not domiciled in New Hampshire, so can't vote here under the proposed law. Obviously the state he's never lived in is the one in which he has the most vested interest.

As for the college student state rep, I'm sure he was involved and aware of local politics in high school and growing up, because I doubt he would already be a state representative if he hadn't been. But a number of students only become politically aware after coming to college. Most people at my school, I think it can fairly be said, care a lot more about this town and know a lot more about its policies than they do about the policies in their home town.
The problem is that this bill is designed to target a very specific group. But, the bill is rather poorly written and poorly thought out. There are a number of unintentional consequences. For example, I came to New Hampshire for undergrad. What If i then decide to go right into med school, also as an undergrad. Then I do my residency in New Hampshire. That would probably be the first moment at which I would no longer be in New Hampshire to attend an institute of learning and are instead here as a new employee, and thus the first time I'd be able to vote here...9 years after moving to New Hampshire.

Mr P
Sat Jan 29 2011 00:44
I really don't think this is a partisan issue. It's about empowering permanent and long-term residents to elect the officials that best represent them. Whether that be democrat or republican doesn't matter. What matters is that whoever is elected be elected by the town's citizens and not the masses of students who a) don't know the first thing about the community and what it needs, b) don't care, and c) will leave in a year or two and abondon the town to the officials they have elected.
Sat Jan 29 2011 00:36
As a student in a college town this greatly angers me. I have spent 10 out of the last twelve months living on my college campus. That is the town that I spend the most time in, and that is the town that I am most educated on the issues for. Why should I be forced to vote through a town that I spend less than half of the calendar year in? This is blatantly discriminating against college students; particularly those who have chosen to live full time on the campus.
Fri Jan 28 2011 16:32
I would like to thank Speaker O'Brien for insulting every person in the state that votes Democrat. You really know how to inspire, don't you?? Horses ass.
Fri Jan 28 2011 15:02
Read the text of the proposed legislation here:
Fri Jan 28 2011 14:44
I'm horrified that even some of the interviewed students support this. In regards to Weeden's comment: obviously, any individual is going to vote in the locale that they know the most about and care the most about, whether that is at school or at their family's home. The option needs to be there.
Fri Jan 28 2011 13:48
O'Brien is an incompetent leader and should step down. However, Representative Weeden does have a point when he states "My support of this bill is not based on voting tendencies of college students," he said. "I want to ensure that a student's vote counts where they will reside long term, not just where they reside for the semester."
Fri Jan 28 2011 13:31
It's pretty clear that the push behind this bill is from the GOP, and that the reason for this push is that they feel most college students are liberals. Unfortunately, they are trying to solve a problem in the wrong way. If they feel that most college students are liberal, and they want the vote of college students, clearly the answer is to make their policies more appealing to college students. Making it more difficult for college students to vote is just obstructing the democracy set forth by the Constitution of the United States, which is something that they frequently like to hold up as the be all and end all of perfection.
Fri Jan 28 2011 11:37
This is a difficult call. Many New England towns, especially in Vermont, have had local and historic issues disrupted by "non-resident" voters who vote their particular agenda, change the political landscape, then return "home", leaving the town or city to deal with their "absent" influence. What i find disturbing is that this is directed at college students and members of the military. When i moved to Bartlett 15 years ago and registered, no one asked me about my intent to stay, or for how long. The part of the bill which places limits on students who were not residents prior to enrollment is particularly onerous. Plenty of students attend college out of state, get a job in their new state, and some live the rest of their lives there. To disenfrancise students who may rent property, seek jobs in NH, and never return "home" except for short visits would seem unconstitutional. By the same token, one would hope that college students would be mature about their choices: no one is being ultimately disenfrancised. A student still has the ability to vote in their "home" elections through absentee ballots. As stated, many students are only concerned in voting in national elections, and to be fair about it, may not be entirely familiar with local politicians, their voting records or stands on local issues. Of course this also applies to "residents". The bottom line is, serious and politically motivated students who feel they have a long term stake in NH and its political makeup should not be disenfrancised. But for those who only plan to stay for four years, your vote may have a lasting, and potentially negative effect on a town long after you have left it. And no one is denying you A vote: you can still vote absentee, especially in a national election.
Fri Jan 28 2011 09:28
William O'Brien is an idiot, if that is the reason why he is for HB 176. I think you should be allowed to vote in the town you live in, even if it just temporarily as a college student. A lot of Republicans are for this, because those towns do tend to vote for Democrats, but that is not a reason to disenfranchise students. Democrats would also be for this bill if students actually did what some residents fear could happen. It would be interesting if students got together and elected the town council and committees, that would prevent issues like the landlord bill from arising.

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