A recent Dartmouth Review article asks a question: “How can a student, who spent only 10 weeks in NH this year, has not returned to the Hanover and plans to stay outside NH for the remainder of the year be a New Hampshire voter?”
The answer for the average Granite Stater would be “They can’t.” Having local state representatives elected by college students living and learning (remotely) in California, New York or Massachusetts makes no sense. These out-of-state students don’t have a current address in the Granite State. They haven’t crossed the state line in months. How can they vote in local elections?
But that’s exactly what the New Hampshire Democratic Party is encouraging them to do, sending out an email urging students to both register to vote in New Hampshire and cast their absentee ballot here in November.
Hanover Town Clerk Betsy McClain told Campus Reform, “residents of Hanover who may be temporarily away on Election Day are eligible to vote absentee. This is true for Dartmouth students who have claimed Hanover as their voting residence and may be off for a semester.”
The phrase “temporarily away” is an extremely generous view of people whose only connection to New Hampshire are the dorms they haven’t slept in since March. Which is why the New Hampshire Republican Party issued an attorney’s letter to NH Attorney General MacDonald, asking him to give town and city clerks legal guidance.
Specifically, they ask that clerks be told not to permit out-of-state learners to register to vote or request a ballot and that clerks not send absentee ballots to out-of-state learners without a current residential address in New Hampshire.
Unsurprisingly, the New Hampshire Democrat Party spokesperson, Holly Shulman, called the letter “desperate” and accused Republicans of “try[ing] to pull out every trick in their voter suppression playbook to stop people who don’t agree with them.”
In the letter, Attorney Sean List acknowledges that students from other states who live in New Hampshire for learning may register and vote while here. If they’re not physically in New Hampshire for their education, though, they are not legally domiciled here for voting purposes, the letter claims.
With many colleges and universities canceling in-person classes for the fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of students that may have voted here should vote where they live, says the NHGOP.
It’s a significant issue in the Granite State, which has the highest per capita college student population in the country. When GOP U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte was defeated by Democrat Maggie Hassan in 2016, a spokesperson for the progressive group NextGen America tweeted:
we’re less than four weeks out, so we decided to start tracking our progress to goal in Maggie Hassan’s
(she won by 1,017 votes in 2016 because the #youthvote turned out big time)
so with over 15,255 pledges to vote collected to date, I give you: 15 Maggie’s pic.twitter.com/WS0Nlghboj
— Kristen Morris (@kristenvmorris) October 11, 2018
The political debate is currently dominated by the presidential race, and boosting the out-of-state student vote could make it even harder for President Trump to pull an upset in November. But the real impact could be on down-ballot races.
With more than 300 registered voters at 2500 N River Rd alone, SNHU’s primary dorm address, Ward 1 in Manchester could be in play for Republican legislative candidates if these non-resident voters aren’t eligible to vote. This could give a significant lift to Jason Syversen, candidate for state senate, as well as the state representative candidates from Ward 1.
Regina Birdsell, the state senator who authored the much-debated SB3 voter registration law, both agreed and disagreed with the NHGOP letter.
Birdsell, a Coast Guard veteran, expressed concerns over how the distinction could be made between overseas servicemembers and out-of-state students. She says that since juniors and seniors in college have likely already fulfilled the domicile requirement required by RSA 654, they must be allowed to vote.
On the other hand, she says that “any student who has yet to register and has yet established their domicile for voting purposes” should not be allowed to register. “They’re not here,” she says, and therefore can’t establish domicile.
Birdsell says it’s troubling to disenfranchise voters who have proven they were domiciled here to vote and can’t be here through no fault of their own. She says the law allows them to register and vote here – and they aren’t here, but they would be if they could.
It is unclear whether the Attorney General plans to issue the guidance requested by the New Hampshire Republican Party. Still, the potential impact on races across New Hampshire could be significant.
SB3, which attempted to amend the law to require voters to be residents, not merely domiciled, in New Hampshire in order to vote has been tied up in courts since it passed in 2017.
In April of this year, a Superior Court Judge struck the law down as unconstitutional, and the state has appealed that ruling to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.