New Year, Same Debate: Who Should Be Allowed to Vote in N.H.?

Jan 2, 2018

When the New Hampshire Senate returns to the State House Wednesday, it’s expected to take up a Republican bill held over from last session that could tighten voter eligibility requirements by changing the definition of residency.

Right now, New Hampshire allows someone to claim residency if they have demonstrated an intent to stay here “for the indefinite future.”

The latest version of HB372 gets rid of that “indefinite” language and says someone’s true residence is the “place the person has, through all of his or her actions, demonstrated a current intent to designate as his or her principal place of physical presence to the exclusion of all others.”

The bill was first introduced last year by Rep. David Bates, a Republican from Windham and a prolific filer of voting-related legislation, but was recently amended by the Senate Election Law committee.

Opponents say HB372 effectively constitutes a poll tax, because it could be construed to require someone to register their vehicle in New Hampshire or incur other residency-related expenses in order to vote here.

But Senate President Chuck Morse, speaking as part of a legislative roundtable on The Exchange, said the bill helps to bring needed clarity to the state’s voting requirements — specifically, around different definitions of "residency" and "domicile."

“When it comes to residency and domicile, it’s a two-tiered system today,” Morse said. “And I think we need to make sure it’s a one-tiered system, that everybody’s treated the same. That’s what the people in New Hampshire deserve, and that’s what they’re asking for.”

Opponents, including Senate Democratic Leader Jeff Woodburn, say HB372 would create barriers for college students and other transient populations.

“It creates a cumbersome process to discourage voting,” Woodburn said on The Exchange Tuesday morning. “It’s all about a Republican national strategy to create this false sense that there is fraud going on, to restrict voting.”

But Democrats aren’t the only ones opposing HB372. Last month, Gov. Chris Sununu told an activist he "hate[d]" the bill and did not believe it would stand up in court. (A video of the interaction was recorded and published by America Votes, a left-leaning group that lobbies for voting rights.)

The governor’s spokesman said Sununu has since met with the head of the Senate Election Law committee, Sen. Regina Birdsell, to learn more about HB372 — but he remains opposed to the bill in its current form.

“The Governor expressed his concerns about the bill in a meeting with [Sen. Birdsell], specifically the importance of analyzing any unintended consequences that may result,” Sununu spokesman Ben Vihstadht wrote in an email. “His position has not changed but he always appreciates the opportunity to receive more information.”