New Hampshire Rep. Gregory Sorg (R- Grafton County) is being accused of trying to prune the voter rolls of presumed liberal voters by barring college students from voting. His “Voters Attending Institutions of Learning” would tell students to vote back home.
The law would establish that “the domicile for voting purposes” of a college student would be the town or city “in which such person had his or her domicile immediately prior to matriculation … even though his or her intent to return thereto is uncertain.”
I have serious constitutional doubts over the viability of the law, particularly in terms of vagueness and equal protection. However, it is the motivation that is now being questioned after the release of comments by Speaker of the House William O’Brien (R-Hillsborough), who told a conservative group that college students registering to vote on Election Day “are basically doing what I did when I was a kid and foolish, voting as a liberal.”
Supporters, however, insist that college students increase the danger of voting fraud in the state.
The proposed law states in pertinent part:
654:2-b Voters Attending Institutions of Learning.
I. The domicile for voting purposes of a person attending an institution of learning shall be the state, or the town, city, ward, or unincorporated place in New Hampshire, in which such person had his or her domicile immediately prior to matriculation, even though such person may no longer reside in said state, town, city, ward, or unincorporated place, and even though his or her intent to return thereto is uncertain. The domicile for voting purposes of a person attending an institution of learning shall not be the place where the institution is located unless the person was domiciled in that place prior to matriculation.
So, even if the student does not reside in another state and has no plans to return to the earlier state, New Hampshire will refuse to recognize his or her domicile for purposes of voting? Matriculation is generally defined as “to be admitted into a group, especially a college or university.”
The problem with the bill is not the right of the state to define who is an eligible voter, but how they are going to disfranchise students who attest that they consider New Hampshire to be their home or do not intend to return home to their original state. In terms of equal protection, how are they going to handle military personnel who under federal law are allowed domestically. Presumably, they can continue to vote in New Hampshire despite not living in the state. How about missionaries and others living abroad? Those voters are guaranteed federal voting rights under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA). They will be presumably allowed to vote in New Hampshire elections, but not students.
The denial of state voting to students could lead to complications for joint federal and state elections. It also could lead to challenges based on the 26th Amendment which was drafted in part to overturn Oregon v. Mitchell, 400 U.S. 112 (1970) where the Court found Congress could not compel states to register 18-year-old citizens in state and local elections.
While the federalism arguments behind this bill are compelling in many circumstances of voter regulation, this bill would use federalism principles to cut out voters and thereby dictate electoral results. It would effectively say that the voters of New Hampshire should decide such questions but we are not going to allow a significant number of prior voters to be heard on such questions.
It would bar these voters on highly speculative grounds to fighting voter fraud without a showing that such fraud is the direct result of college students voting or that such fraud can be avoided without disenfranchising young people.
Notably, while politicians are constantly complaining about young people not being involved in politics and voting, this bill would bar students from getting involved. They are much more likely to be motivated to vote in their college and university towns. I am astonished not to see any response from educational organizations in opposition to this proposal.
These legislators have a rather narrow view of the state motto. They may pledge to “Live Free and Die”, but it does not mean live here. However, if you die in New Hampshire, you will presumably be considered fully domiciled.