by Brittnie Baker, Counsel
SB 3, which has already passed the Senate and is poised to move through the House this week, will adversely impact the ability of many qualified voters – and particularly students – to register and vote in New Hampshire. The bill requires voters to provide documentation of actions to prove they are domiciled and living in New Hampshire. This law is unnecessary and only erects barriers to voters rather than encouraging them to be active citizens.
At the April 18 House Election Law Committee hearing on the bill, a recurring theme was whether college and university students who are originally from out of state should be allowed to vote in New Hampshire while they are attending school. Any suggestion that students living and attending school in New Hampshire do not have the right to vote in New Hampshire is wrong and damaging not only to students who are civically engaged in their school community, but to our democracy as a whole.
Students have the right to vote where they attend college, if they so choose. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld this right in Symm v. United States in 1979. This ruling determined that students may not be treated different than any other potential voter based simply on their status as a student. A student’s living arrangement at school – whether the student lives on campus, or a rental off campus – does not impact their ability to register and vote at that address.
The list of actions to prove domicile in SB 3 are quite restrictive for students, many of whom may not have access to a qualifying document. For example, many students do not have traditional leases and instead will need to obtain a letter from their landlord to verify their address under the bill. That will give a landlord who refuses to provide such letter veto power over a student’s ability to vote. Additionally, almost all of the documents to prove domicile require that the would-be student voter spend money to prove they live and reside in the state.
Students should be encouraged to become engaged voters for life, which best starts with participation in local governance and elections. This encouragement should come from family, college administrators, and elected officials alike. Dozens of engaged student voters from colleges and universities across the state showed up for the House Election Law Committee hearing to voice their concerns to their state representatives.
It isn’t hard to see why student voters feel targeted by SB 3 when supporters of the bill, such as former State Senator Bob Clegg, wrongly argued that attending school in New Hampshire doesn’t equate to actually living in the community. During Senator Clegg’s testimony he stated, “If you don’t live in my community, please don’t vote in my community.” However, students are counted in the Census which is utilized in drawing districts, determining representation, and distributing federal funds, not to mention students live, work, spend money, and pay taxes in their local communities.
New Hampshire’s legislators do a disservice to the state by making it harder for students, their very constituents, to develop as citizens. Decisions made by local governments affect all residents of that locality – both those who have resided in the community for decades and those who recently moved to the area to obtain an education.