City students and relocated workers may encounter obstacle when registering to vote

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FILE PHOTO/An Election Day voter registration table at Ward 3.

MANCHESTER, NH – Manchester’s many college students, military personnel, and transient professionals will encounter new obstacles when they register to vote, if the state Senate passes HB 372 on Wednesday. The bill’s standard of “residency” would require that they register their cars in New Hampshire and get state-issued driver’s licenses.

The costs are steep. A driver’s license costs $50. Car registration can cost $300. New registrants would have 60 days to comply with the law.

Manchester is home to many out-of-state workers who rent while employed here. They may be roommates of a lease-holder, and many wait indefinitely to change their driver’s licenses and auto registrations.

Present election law, which is a reflection of federal court mandates, requires only that voters be “domiciled,” physically occupying a space in the state “more than any other place.”

Gilles Bisonnette, legal director at the New Hampshire American Civil Liberties Union, called the measure a “poll tax.”

Democrats and voting rights advocates said the measure would create a strong voting deterrent among college students.

The amendment has alarmed the NH Campaign for Voting rights, one of whose supporters, Ben Kremer, asked Governor Chris Sununu about it on December 8.  In a moment captured on video, the governor put up his hands, interrupted Kremer, and said “No, I hate it.”  For additional effect, he added, “I will never support anything that suppresses the student vote. End of story.”

Bill has “dubious legality”

“The legality of HB 372 is rather dubious,” writes Joseph Stern in Slate. “The 24th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution bars the imposition of poll taxes in federal elections, and the Equal Protection Clause prohibits such taxes in state elections as well,” writes Stern.

“The New Hampshire Constitution provides robust protection for the right to vote, declaring that ‘every inhabitant of the state of 18 years of age and upwards shall have an equal right to vote in any election.’ The state Supreme Court has interpreted this provision to mean that a ‘severe’ burden on the right to vote must be ‘narrowly drawn to advance a state interest of compelling importance,’” writes Stern.

Supporters claim HB 372 will provide clarity and uniformity

The bill’s supporters claim that it will provide clarity. Sen. Regina Birdsell (R-Hampstead), who endorses HB 372, said, “It’s going to equate domicile with residence, much as it is in Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont. To be eligible to vote, you must have established and maintained a voting residence in the municipality.”

The bill has been put forward in the context of President Donald Trump’s claim he would have won the state in the 2016 presidential elections had thousands of people not been bused in illegally, a claim for which he has offered no evidence.

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