Gov. Chris Sununu’s signing of HB1264 on Friday was the perfect example of that life-coach lesson “Do Well By Doing Good.”
The “doing good” was fixing New Hampshire’s clearly broken voter residency system. As has been reported repeatedly during this debate, New Hampshire was the only one of the 50 states with this bizarre division between “residence” and “domicile” for voting purposes. It’s simply unfair—and a violation of common sense—to say that a college student whose real address is “Back Home, USA,” who lives in a dorm, has never registered a car, etc., etc., should have the right to cancel out the ballot of the lifetime citizens of the Granite State. Forget politics—it’s just plain wrong.
Bringing New Hampshire in line with the other 50 states on the issue of voter residency should have been no big deal. It should have been done years ago by Governors Hassan, Shaheen or Lynch. The fact that it wasn’t shows that they understood full well the partisan political implications of this reform.
Which brings us to the “doing well” part. At his town hall rally in Bow, N.H. Wednesday night, billionaire liberal activist Tom Steyer told the #ImpeachNow crowd that his group, NextGen Climate Action, had increased student turnout year-to-year in 2016 by more than Maggie Hassan’s margin of victory over Kelly Ayotte—at just one campus. (UNH).
If he’s telling the truth, that means the legal residents of the state had their US Senator picked for them by out-of-state college kids who don’t, by any reasonable standard, live here.
Steyer’s hoping to do the same this year—spending around $1 million to influence Granite State elections. He claims that his money has allowed NextGen to organize “on every campus in New Hampshire” already.
Now, it’s no coincidence that Steyer, whose stated goal is to elect a Democratic majority in the House that can begin impeachment proceedings against President Trump, is targeting college students. It’s not their youthful enthusiasm. It’s the fact that, as Steyer noted Wednesday night, they overwhelmingly vote Democrat.
The opposition to this voting reform isn’t about protecting the right to vote. It’s about getting as many Democratic voters on the ground in a small state with a large number of college students where their votes will matter. In Massachusetts, legislators could extend the vote to every out-of-stater driving the Mass Pike on Election Day and it wouldn’t matter. The state’s too big and too blue.
But in New Hampshire, as Steyer himself bragged, a few thousand out-of-state college kids can make a big difference.
Democrats like Sen. Shaheen and Rep. Kuster accuse Gov. Sununu of voter suppression. That’s nonsense. Every voting-eligible American citizen in New Hampshire on November 6th will be able to vote in the 2018 midterm. Every. Single. One.
They just won’t all be able to vote here.
Gov. Sununu made the smart decision to send the bill to the state Supreme Court, who concurred that this bill would not deny anyone the franchise. It will merely require them to exercise it the way more than 22 million Americans did in 2016—via absentee ballot, back in the community that is, from a legal and voting standpoint, their home.
Which, if Steyer is telling the truth about his efforts, is good news for Gov. Sununu and every down-ballot Republican this November. If the point of registering out-of-state students is to elect Democrats and defeat Republicans—and the people leading the effort brag about it—they can’t very well complain when Republicans don’t go along quietly with their plan.
But even if it weren’t good news for the GOP, even if New Hampshire’s were a bastion of right-wing campuses like Brigham Young and Liberty University, it would still be the right thing to do. And knowing that he would take a political bullet for it, Gov. Sununu did it anyway.
Granite State idealists might argue that the governor’s only motive was to make our voting process more fair. They might point out that the new law doesn’t take effect until July 2019– months after Sununu faces the voters this November.
The more cynical among us might say this was the act of a politician who passed math class. He can see that the number of votes Republicans will lose over this issue on Election Day is smaller than the number of out-of-state students pumped up on “I Hate Trump” juice and ready to pour into New Hampshire’s polls in 2020, and in every election for years after.
If actual residents of the state want to change the rules and let non-legal-residents vote here, they are free to elect a Democratic legislature and governor and pass a new law. They can even follow Boston’s example and consider extending the right to vote to non-citizens (at the state and local level, of course).
But by any reasonable evaluation, Gov. Sununu did the right thing when he signed HB1264 into law. And every once in a while in this crazy world, the right thing and the politically-smart thing turn out to be the same thing.