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Votes from afar: An unenforced law

Out-of-state residents regularly vote in New Hampshire’s elections. Rep. Neal Kurk, R-Weare, thinks that is OK if the out-of-stater was born and raised in New Hampshire. He might think this even if his daughter were not one of those out-of-state voters. No matter how he came to his reasoning, he is wrong.

Kurk’s 46-year-old daughter, Kendra Kurk Anderson, has lived in Hawaii since at least 2007. That is what one of her online social profiles says, though Kurk says it has been “10 or 15 years.” There is no dispute, though, that she resides in Hawaii. There is not a U.S. state that would be farther from Weare, N.H. And yet she votes in Weare. Election records show she voted there by absentee ballot in 2008 and 2012.

How is this possibly justifiable? Kurk says she returns to the family home for several months a year. He says she has kept ties to her home state, has a New Hampshire driver’s license and intends to move back some day. That last point, of course, is impossible to prove. And that illustrates perfectly the problem with the state’s voter registration law.

The law states that “every inhabitant” of New Hampshire, “having a single established domicile for voting purposes,” may vote here. Anderson cannot be called an inhabitant. The law goes on to define “domicile” as “that one place where a person, more than any other place, has established a physical presence and manifests an intent to maintain a single continuous presence for domestic, social and civil purposes relevant to participating in democratic self-government.”

Anderson certainly does not maintain a physical presence in New Hampshire more than in Hawaii. She might intend to return, but that intent is not “manifest” in “a single continuous presence for domestic, social and civil purposes ….” And yet state officials are reluctant to prevent from voting anyone who states an intent to return.

Kurk says his daughter is not the same as the “carpetbaggers” who come to New Hampshire to work on election campaigns, vote, then vanish. This is true. But they are the same under the law. They all vote in New Hampshire without residing here, and they get away with it by claiming that they intend to return some day.

State law was not intended to allow this. But its vagueness makes it difficult for state officials to stop it. That needs to be remedied.

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