Sununu calls on New Hampshire Supreme Court to review HB 1264
New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu has called on the New Hampshire Supreme Court to review House Bill 1264 before he decides to approve or veto the bill.
On May 10, New Hampshire General Court passed HB 1264, which modifies the definitions of “resident” and “residency” and has drawn concern that the language will restrict out-of-state students’ abilities to vote.
Sununu has stated that he does not support the bill in its current form.
“I remain concerned about the bill’s constitutionality, and as such, I am asking the Supreme Court to weigh in on this issue to put this matter to rest once and for all,” he stated in a May 15 press release from his office.
According to Hanover director of administrative services and town clerk Betsy McClain, students in New Hampshire can currently vote in the state without taking on the full responsibilities of residency, but this bill would likely change that status quo. Under the bill, students would need to acquire a New Hampshire driver’s license within 60 days of voting, which she anticipates would be difficult for many students because of their busy schedules and difficulty acquiring access to transportation.
“This will have an alienating impact on many students,” McClainsaid.
College Democrats president Jennifer West ’20 agreed that the bill may have significant effects on Dartmouth students.
“This bill is really important for Dartmouth students specifically because if it passes we will have to pay to vote,” West said. “That’s not something that we currently have to do and it’s not something that we should ever have to do.”
West added that compared to the current on-campus registration system, it would be more difficult for students to acquire drivers’ licenses.
Although the bill has passed the Senate and the House of Representatives, State Senator Jeff Woodburn, who serves as a member of the New Hampshire Senate Election Law and Internal Affairs Committee, said he believes the New Hampshire Supreme Court may oppose it and it may never become law.
“We believe it is a poll tax after voting,” he said.
“The reason that these types of bills are going through is because New Hampshire legislators are scared of how powerful Dartmouth students and other New Hampshire college students are,” West said. “I think it’s politically motivated.”
Woodburn said that the bill is indeed strategic.
“It’s a perpetual political strategy to make it harder for people who demographically vote for Democratic candidates,” Woodburn said. “It’s part of a national strategy of putting roadblocks in front of the voting booths and it’s been very successful around the country.”
Woodburn noted that the strategy has been effective at disenfranchising young and minority voters.
“The only way in their strategy for them to combat that is to make it more difficult for people ... who don’t agree with their positions [to vote],” he said. “You either grow your party or shrink those who can participate in democracy.”
Woodburn also said that the “terrible bill” is a response to shifting demographics in New Hampshire, which he said is becoming more “blue leaning.” He added that New Hampshire colleges were very influential in the 2016 senatorial and presidential elections.
McClain agreed that the new bill could be a response to the strong college voter influence.
“I think there will be fewer resident college students registering to vote in New Hampshire and I think that’s a very targeted impact,” she said.
However, McClain said that the bill’s supporters are not making public statements about that potential motivation for the creation of the bill.
“I believe the sponsor will say that this will go a long way in keeping the purity of New Hampshire elections and the appearance of fairness and propriety,” she said. “I question that — there has been little to no evidence of voter fraud in our state and yet this bill is being championed by several folks in order to preserve the tarnished impression of our voter process.”
West also said that she believes the bill is a response to the close 2016 senatorial and presidential elections.
“They’re trying to keep us from voting in this state,” she said. “They’re telling us that our voices shouldn’t be represented here.”
West emphasized the importance of Dartmouth students being able to voice their opinions, citing the recent vote on Article 9, a zoning law that affected student housing.
“It’s really important that Dartmouth students be able to vote in New Hampshire because the laws that are passed here at the state and local level really affect us on a day-to-day basis,’ she said. “Dartmouth is where we live, it’s where we spend most of our time, and the politicians that represent us here in our state have more sway on our lives than the ones that represent our home states.”
West added that the College Democrats have sent students to testify against voter suppression bills at the state legislature in Concord, New Hampshire in the past and will continue to register students to vote on campus for as long as possible.
According to West, Dartmouth students currently have a powerful voice in the political process, which some politicians do not like.
“Dartmouth students are incredibly influential because students are engaged and passionate, and care about making the world a better place,” she said. “If we didn’t feel this way, it’s possible people wouldn’t be trying so hard to keep us from voting.”