New Hampshire Law Illegally Targets Young Voters Ahead of 2020 Primary

The New Hampshire 2020 primary is still almost a year away, but state legislators are already working to disenfranchise voters. HB 1264, a law set to go into effect in July 2019, will change the definition of what it means to be a “resident” of New Hampshire, forcing people with out-of-state driver’s licenses or car registrations to switch to the state versions if they register to vote. 

While it may sound like an archaic DMV issue, it’s actually a burden on the right to vote. In New Hampshire, students are lawfully permitted to vote in the town where they live while attending school. 

By requiring people to pay up to hundreds of dollars in vehicle registration fees if they register to vote, the law unconstitutionally restricts voting rights and, in particular, targets New Hampshire’s students and young people to dissuade them for voting. That’s why we just filed a lawsuit on behalf of two Dartmouth College students, both of whom were eligible to vote in the 2018 elections but now would be forced to update their driver’s licenses if they participate in 2020. 

For our plaintiffs, this fight is about having a voice in the issues that matter most to them. Caroline, a sophomore, is heavily involved in get-out-the-vote efforts on her campus. She’ll be living in New Hampshire until at least 2021 and wants to make sure her voice will be heard by legislators in New Hampshire on the issues she cares about. 

Maggie, another student in our case, wants to vote for candidates who will act on climate change. As she puts it, “I spend more of my time [in New Hampshire] than anywhere else, and these state and local politicians can affect anything from my access to health care to the quality of air I breathe.” 

Stretching back to the passage of the 26th Amendment — which lowered the voting age to 18 in 1971 — New Hampshire has repeatedly tried to exclude students from its elections. In the early 1970s, New Hampshire disqualified citizens from voting in a municipality if they had a “firm intention” of leaving that town at a fixed time in the future. In 1972, a federal court struck the law down because it explicitly targeted college students. 

Learn more about the case

That didn’t stop state legislators from trying other tricks to stop students from voting.

In 2012, the New Hampshire Legislature enacted a law that amended the voter registration form to suggest, inaccurately, that voters would be obligated to apply for New Hampshire driver’s licenses if they register to vote. The law was clearly passed with partisan intent. In fact, in September of 2012, the New Hampshire Speaker of the House Bill O’Brien described the language as necessary because college students were “[v]oting as a liberal. That’s what kids do.” The ACLU of New Hampshire challenged the 2012 law, and a court struck it down as unconstitutional. 

New Hampshire should have learned its lesson. Instead, following the 2016 election, legislators went back to the drawing board to target young voters. 

The process by which HB 1264 was passed alone reveals it to be a partisan attempt to restrict students’ right to vote. Despite the fact that the law changes the definition of a New Hampshire resident for motor vehicle purposes, the bill was considered by the Election Law Committees of both houses of the state legislature. One of the chief advocates for the law was the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s Office — the agency in charge of administrating elections. The Division of Motor Vehicles did not even take a position on this legislation, nor did it offer a cost estimate. And legislators supporting the law made known their intention to dissuade students from voting. 

Young people can and should play a leadership role in our country’s democracy. States that put unnecessary and unjustified barriers in the way of young people voting are violating the Constitution and doing a disservice to the democratic process.  

New Hampshire is a repeat offender when it comes to suppressing voting rights. We will see them in court to protect students’ right to vote.

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Ms. Gloria Anasyrma

Dartmouth? Who would want to have a dart in their mouth?

Anonymous

Normally I'm a supporter of you fine folks, but you've got this one wrong. If you vote in New Hampshire, you're making a statement that your legal residence, or domicile, is in New Hampshire. New Hampshire residents have an obligation to register their vehicles in NH, and to surrender any out-of-state driver's license. It doesn't require someone who doesn't have a driver's license at all to get one, it doesn't require someone who doesn't own any vehicles to buy one, and it doesn't prevent anyone spending time in NH from voting in the precinct where they legally reside.

You get one legal residence. You can't say I want to be a legal resident of NH for income tax purposes, a legal resident of SD for driver's license purposes (no points for speeding!), a legal resident of Tennessee for personal property tax, a legal resident of Oregon for sales tax, and a legal resident of Florida for voting.

Since you're challenging the requirement here, I assume California is next, since registering to vote or donating to the ACLU there is a factor subjecting you to their income, sales, and use taxes, along with fines for not paying them.

Anonymous

While attending college in a state other than your birth state, you are LEGALLY a resident of that state for the duration of your school time there. Thus the college students largely targeted by this bill ARE residents.

Plus, I mean, like the article states several times, NH is not exactly known for NOT trying to restrict the voting rights of young adults... it is, in fact, a repeat offender many times over.

Anonymous

You don't have to claim residency, only inhabit the state in which you wish to vote. If you live in-state, even if only for part of the year, you can vote there. So long as you don't vote in multiple states, you're not commiting fraud.

Anonymous

You're correct that she can vote in NH. But in doing so she declares her intent to remain in NH for an indefinite time, calling it "home". New Hampshire can impose a registration or licensing requirement independent of that, just as states do with income tax--whether physical presence (often 30 days for registration, usually 180 or so days for imposing income tax on you for the full year), nexus based on employment, or any number of other factors, of which voting can be one.

Look at the requirements for being required to pay income tax in states that have one. Almost all explicitly list voting in the state as a requirement. This is no different.

Anonymous

You're correct that she can vote in NH. But in doing so she declares her intent to remain in NH for an indefinite time, calling it "home". New Hampshire can impose a registration or licensing requirement independent of that, just as states do with income tax--whether physical presence (often 30 days for registration, usually 180 or so days for imposing income tax on you for the full year), nexus based on employment, or any number of other factors, of which voting can be one.

Look at the requirements for being required to pay income tax in states that have one. Almost all explicitly list voting in the state as a requirement. This is no different.

Anonymous

If Maggie "spends more of her time here than anywhere else", then she is a resident and needs to get a state drivers license and/or nondriver ID, and register her car here just like the rest of us do. No double standards for snowflakes.

Anonymous

If someone isn't going to change their residence, why not use an absentee ballot from where they are a resident?

No one is "disenfranchised".

As to the cost of registering one's car, abolish the DMV. It's a department that exists solely to process its own paperwork. Abolish it for everyone.

Anonymous

I don't understand the problem. When I was in college, I had to vote in the state and town in which I was a resident. That's all NH is trying to do. It's easy to send in an absentee ballot. After all, those students are not residents of NH -- why should they be able to vote there?

Anonymous

Agree. Students who have "legal" residence in another state are able to send an absentee ballot to their home state. Using absentee ballots to their home state is better than skewing election results in any state they are attending University/College. These same students get most of their scholarship/grant money from their home states.

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