Dartmouth students challenge NH voting law HB 1264

by Andrew Culver | 2/26/19 2:05am

Two Dartmouth students are challenging a New Hampshire state law in court that they argue restricts the rights of out-of-state college students to vote. 

Despite the excitement of 2020 presidential candidates coming to campus, Dartmouth students who were not previously registered to vote in N.H. may find themselves unable to vote in the upcoming primary due to HB 1264, a new law slated to go into effect in July 2019. The law will change the definition of a New Hampshire resident, requiring out-of-state students, among others, to obtain state drivers licenses or in-state car registrations in order to vote. 

The lawsuit has been filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of two Dartmouth students, Caroline Casey ’21 and Maggie Flaherty ’21, and names the New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, whose agency is in charge of administering elections, and New Hampshire Attorney General Gordon MacDonald as defendants. Both plaintiffs were eligible to vote in New Hampshire in 2018 but would now be required to update their drivers licenses in order to participate in the 2020 elections at a Hanover polling place.

“I always knew growing up that I would have the right to vote in the state where I went to college,” Flaherty said. 

Concerned how HB 1264 would infringe upon this right, Flaherty said she began talking to lawyers from the ACLU in the fall. 

The ACLU opposed HB 1264 while the bill was moving through the legislature and now is continuing that fight in court, according to Henry Klementowicz, an ACLU lawyer arguing the case. Klementowicz said that voting rights are a major priority for ACLU New Hampshire.

The complaint challenges HB 1264 on three different constitutional arguments. First, the complaint states that the law violates the First and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution in that it imposes a severe burden on the right to vote while not advancing a compelling state interest, according to the complaint. Second, the law is being challenged on the grounds that it violates the 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age to 18, in that the law has the “purpose and effect” of restricting the right to vote to New Hampshire voters on account of their age. Finally, the complaint argues that the law violates the 24th Amendment, which prohibits imposing poll taxes on the basis that the fees required to obtain an in-state drivers license constitute a poll tax.  

“College students have a statutory right to vote in New Hampshire, and where people choose to register to vote is a personal choice,” Klementowicz said. “That shouldn’t be subject to the payment of large fees to the [Department of Motor Vehicles].”

Flaherty emphasized the importance of college students’ right to participate in local elections.

“New Hampshire politics effect our health care, the environment and the air we breathe, and so I feel it’s really important to vote where we live,” she said.

HB 1264 will not be the first time Republican New Hampshire legislators have brought up legislation surrounding voting registration requirements for temporary state residents such as college students.

“New Hampshire has a history of changes to voting laws that can make it more difficult or more expensive to vote, especially for college students,” Klementowicz said. 

In the early 1970s, New Hampshire passed a law prohibiting individuals from voting in a town that they had a “firm intention” of leaving in the near future, according to the ACLU website.

The case against HB 1264 is a “continuation” of the ACLU’s work ensuring that the constitutional right to vote is protected, Klementowicz said, in reference to the ACLU’s successful challenge of a 2012 law which the ACLU argued falsely suggested that voters would be obligated to apply for a New Hampshire drivers license in order to vote in the state.

“We have received the complaint filed and are reviewing it,” senior assistant attorney general Anthony Galdieri wrote in an email statement. “It is the Attorney General’s duty to vigorously defend the laws of our state and our office will do so in this case.” Galdieri is also the chief of civil litigation on behalf of the attorney general’s office and the secretary of state. 

Due to its status as pending litigation, the attorney general declined to comment further on the lawsuit.

Flaherty said that Dartmouth students should care about the case because they have the right to vote where they go to school — and HB 1264 threatens that right — and that they should want to vote in New Hampshire.