Republican Senate Bill 3 passes Senate

by Rebecca Flowers | 6/30/17 12:00am

The Republican-sponsored New Hampshire Senate Bill 3, which may complicate same-day voter registration for New Hampshire college students, passed in the state Senate 14-9 on June 8. The bill changes what domicile means in the context of voting and stipulates that proof of residence is required for same-day voters, including a written statement that verifies voters’ home addresses. It also authorizes government agents to visit a voter’s home to make sure that it is the voter’s primary residence.

The bill, which has been consistently supported by Republicans, was introduced to the Senate on January 19, and has since been amended and passed through both the Senate and the House. When it passed in the House with amendments on June 1, the majority of “yeas” came from Republicans, with only four supporting votes from House Democrats. The remaining Democrats, one Independent and several Republicans voted against. Sen. Martha Hennessey, D-Hanover, voted “nay” in the Senate.

“Republicans rule the day in the New Hampshire legislature this session,” Hanover town manager Julia Griffin said.

Now, the bill will go to New Hampshire’s Republican Gov. Chris Sununu to either be vetoed or signed into law. After the House vote, Sununu indicated his support for the bill in a press release, which he said “helps protect the integrity of New Hampshire’s electoral process.”

Republicans have argued that the bill helps prevent voter fraud in New Hampshire. According to the Dartmouth College Democrats communication director Jennifer West ’20, President Donald Trump’s concern about massive voter fraud in the 2016 election has “trickled down to the state level.” As a candidate for governor, Sununu said that Democrats were being bussed into New Hampshire and registering to vote on the day of elections.

Fear of voter fraud was a significant concern at the State House, the College Democrats finance director Sam Zarkower ’20 said after the organization’s visit to the capitol. The bill has the potential to put a burden on “students, military personnel, and newcomers to the state, as well as the unpaid volunteers who man the voting booths and area [and are] already dealing with a lot of mandates from the state,” government professor Linda Fowler said.

The bill is not popular among town clerks, Griffin said. The bill stipulates that, for each registered voter, two or more municipal officers must go to the address and verify that it is the voter’s primary domicile.

“[The Secretary of State’s office is] going to have to fund that investigation, because we don’t have the resources nor the interest in getting involved with chasing people down to physically verify the home addresses,” she said.

Griffin’s main concern is that additional extra paperwork could create longer lines and delays at the polls, especially considering the large number of voters who come out on election days.

“It’s not unusual for us to register anywhere from 900 to 1500 residents, most of whom are students,” Griffin said.

Many residents do not register in advance, especially students, she said. Fowler agrees that the enforcement of these laws is “unworkable.”

In addition to the administrative difficulties, another of Griffin’s main issues with the bill is “the sense that it was treating same-day registrants differently from those who register in advance.”

The College Democrats fought hard in opposition to the bill, West said. They held phone banks, calling New Hampshire residents and urging them to tell their state legislators to vote against the bill. A group of students visited the New Hampshire Statehouse to testify against the bill in person. West, who was one of the students to testify, said she asked representatives to “look [her] in the eye and tell [her] that this bill is doing what it obviously does,” meaning that it alienates student voters.

She said she believes the voter fraud argument is nonsensical, because there have been only five cases of voter fraud in New Hampshire in recent memory. On the other hand, West contends, student votes can have a significant influence on elections.

“[Sen.] Maggie Hassan [D-NH] won her election by about 700 votes, and Dartmouth is about 6,000 students,” West said. “So if New Hampshire can get about 700 votes out of the way, they see a red state in the future.”

While the bill does not directly prevent student voting, West argues that it is discriminatory against students, who would find it difficult to obtain a proof of residence without a mortgage or electricity bill. The new law would also create more paperwork for same-day voters, she said.

“We know that Dartmouth students use same-day registration, overwhelmingly so,” West said.

If same-day registration is much more difficult, West said she believes voter turnout will decrease. Despite her disappointment that the bill has made so much progress, West believes its existence demonstrates the power of student voters.

“College students, no matter which way they vote, are incredibly important and can define elections,” she said.

Assuming Sununu signs the bill into law, Griffin predicts that the bill will be challenged legally by the American Civil Liberties Union on grounds of discrimination.