A controversial bill to restrict residency rules for voting is on its way to the state Supreme Court for a review. The Executive Council voted along party lines on Wednesday to approve Gov. Chris Sununu’s request to ask the court to look into House Bill 1264’s constitutionality.
After repeatedly stating he opposes the existing language in that bill — and a nearly identical one, House Bill 372 — Sununu now says he will likely sign the legislation as long as the court can “verify that it meets all the constitutional requirements” his office has asked them to review.
“I think it would be hard not to sign it, to be honest,” Sununu told reporters after Wednesday’s council meeting. “But we’ll see what their opinion comes back as.”
Both voter residency bills seek to tighten New Hampshire’s voter eligibility laws by removing the distinction between the state’s definitions for residency and domicile — so that only those who intend to become New Hampshire residents can vote here.
The law currently extends voting eligibility to those who intend to remain in New Hampshire “for the indefinite future.” Both bills would remove that clause so that only those who intend to make the state their “principal place of physical presence to the exclusion of all others” participate in local elections.
The governor’s public position on the issue has shifted several times in recent months. (And that lack of consistency, more recently, has created some challenges for lawmakers trying to figure out how to move forward with the legislation.)
Late last year, when confronted by a young activist on a video that was later circulated by one of the organizations lobbying against the legislation, Sununu said he “hated” the legislation and was “hoping that the Legislature kills it.”
“I will never support anything that suppresses the student vote,” the governor responded when asked by the activist whether he would veto the bill. “End of story.”
Since then, the governor’s office has repeatedly stated that Sununu “has serious concerns with both HB 372 and HB 1264, and does not support either bill in their current form.” But along the way, the governor's office did not respond to repeated attempts to clarify Sununu's specific concerns with the bills or whether he planned to veto them if they reached his desk unchanged.
When asked again on Wednesday, Sununu still did not identify any specific provisions that he finds objectionable in either piece of voter residency legislation.
"What I've really asked the Legislature to do is really to review the constitutionality,” Sununu said Wednesday, when asked what he’s asked lawmakers to change. “That is what I have the most concerns with."
The governor also didn't directly answer a question posed to him on Wednesday about whether out-of-state college students in New Hampshire should be allowed to vote here, an issue that’s been at the heart of the legislative debate over this and other bills to restrict residency requirements for voting in New Hampshire.
"That's the question before us," Sununu said. "That's exactly what we're asking — resident versus domicile, how we define it."
While Democrats and other voting rights activists have warned that the bills would make it harder for out-of-state college students to vote in New Hampshire, Republican lawmakers have previously dismissed those concerns as “an untrue narrative.”