A certain partisan bill could make voting much more expensive for New Hampshire college students who come from out-of-state. And seeing as nearly three quarters of 2016 college grads in New Hampshire accumulated over $36,000 of debt on average, that's not something to just shrug off. For lots of college students, every expense counts.
The Republican bill creates a system that allows state locals with New Hampshire drivers' licenses to have much more political say than out-of-state people who have IDs from a different state. The demand for this system appears in an amendment to the bill HB 372, which was originally introduced in January to eliminate out-of-state voters from the local elections. Above all, this could severely harm out-of-state college students' right to political representation in the state.
The bill's amendment demands that only "residents" be allowed to vote in New Hampshire. In order to become a "resident," an out-of-state person will have to register their car in the state and obtain a local driver's license. And if you've ever done that, you know it can get pricey.
With fees surrounding registration processes, plate prices, and other administrative costs, the simple task of registering to vote could amount to hundreds of dollars. For many out-of-state students who may come from lower income backgrounds, such expenses could force them to pick between covering costs for college or the right to political representation in New Hampshire.
To justify their stance, the amendment's sponsors have complained that non-residents in the state are "not subject to the responsibilities imposed on voters and public office holders who are residents of New Hampshire." They added that "laws that permit a nonresident to vote and hold public office are confusing and contradict the basic premise of government of the people, by the people, and for the people." So, according to the sponsors, "a person must be a resident of New Hampshire to vote or hold office in New Hampshire."
According to some observers, the move to target out-of-state voters seems like a reaction to Democratic rival Sen. Maggie Hassan's victory against Sen. Kelly Ayotte. Hassan scored a reported 1,017 votes more in the Senate race against the Republican runner. Additionally, Brennan Center For Justice at the New York University School of Law showed through investigative analysis that the Republican claims about voter fraud were dubious.
In a report by the Concord Monitor, critics of the move, such as Democratic Sen. Jeff Woodburn, said, "It’s an attempt to suppress the vote and make it harder for people to participate in our democracy. We’re talking about college students, paying lots of money to be here. If we’re lucky, we can convince them to stay here because we want their talent." The legal director for the state's American Civil Liberties Union chapter, Gilles Bisonnette, described the amendment as a discriminatory "poll tax" on students in The Concord Monitor.
In response to the criticism, Sen. James Gray, one of the measure's sponsors, spoke with the Concord Monitor.
I do want you to have the right to vote in New Hampshire. If you’re a resident, if this is the place you choose to live abandoning all others, I want you to vote in New Hampshire. But if that place you choose to interact with is in Massachusetts, in Vermont, in Maine, in Kalamazoo, New Mexico, then I want you vote there.
If the bill passes, it could be a massive blow to out-of-state voter rights in New Hampshire where reportedly over 6,500 people with out-of-state driver licenses voted in 2016. But the good news is that the possibility of the bill becoming law is somewhat shaky. Although HB 372 was introduced in January and sailed through the House in March, it's not clear whether it will experience positive results in the Senate where opposition seems to be pretty high.