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Voting & residency NH law worse than Vermont’s

August 06. 2014 7:12PM

Plenty of other states tie voting to residency. Why can’t New Hampshire?

In Maine and Vermont, for example, the law says you can live in the state without being a resident — but you can vote there only if you are a legal resident. In New Hampshire, the law says that if you live here you can vote here, even if you have not established legal residency.

Vermont’s voter registration form asks, “Are you a resident of Vermont?” If you answer “no,” the form declares: “You are not qualified to vote in Vermont.”

Maine’s election law defines residency as “that place where the person has established a fixed and principal home to which the person, whenever temporarily absent, intends to return.” Its voter registration guide warns: “You should be aware that if you register to vote in Maine, you will be deemed to have declared residency in Maine, which may have consequences for compliance with other Maine laws, including the motor vehicle laws and tax laws.”

This is not rocket science. If Maine and Vermont can require that voters be legal state residents, why can’t New Hampshire?

The answer, as lawyers for the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union mentioned in a column on Friday, is that New Hampshire’s definition of residency is flawed. It states that one must “designate that place of abode as his principal place of physical presence for the indefinite future to the exclusion of all others.” The phrase “indefinite future” was ruled an unconstitutional restriction in the 1972 state Supreme Court case Newberger v. Peterson. Newberger, a Dartmouth student, was not allowed to register as a voter because he said he would return to his home state of Hawaii after graduation.

The fix is relatively simple. Remove “indefinite future” from the definition of residency and replace it with language similar to Maine’s or Vermont’s, or even to New Hampshire’s domicile definition.

Why make the change? Because, as Maine’s “voter fact sheet” states, “residence is something that you establish, not something you choose.”

Requiring that voters establish full residency weeds out drive-by voters such as out-of-state campaign workers and volunteers. That preserves the integrity of New Hampshire elections and ensures that Granite Staters do not have their votes diluted or canceled out by political activists who reside in other states.

This should not be a “right” or “left” issue. If liberal Vermont can do it, so can New Hampshire.


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