Voter eligibility battle heightens in New Hampshire

A New Hampshire voter casts his ballot at Amherst Street Elementary School.
A New Hampshire voter casts his ballot at Amherst Street Elementary School in November 2016. Photo: Kayana Szymczak/Getty Images

New Hampshire lawmakers have advanced a key voting rights measure along party lines this week tightening residency requirements to vote — a move critics say deliberately targets college students and others who are more likely to vote Democratic.

The state of play: Currently, out-of-state students and others who aren’t fully residents can declare the state their domicile for voting purposes. The measure seeks to require voters to prove they are a resident of the state by obtaining a state driver’s license and registering their vehicle. Those who don’t drive would have to show alternate documents to validate their permanent residency status.

What they’re saying: Republicans argue it’s an attempt to confirm that eligible voters are residents of the state, and they dismissed accusations that votes would be suppressed.

  • However, critics like the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire and Jason Kander, the former Democratic Missouri Secretary of State and president of Let America Vote, labeled the change as a “poll tax.” They argue it's an additional barrier to voting because people would be forced to pay fees for vehicle registration and obtaining a license.

Between the lines: The advancement of the measure by the state legislature shows there’s unending interest in voter residency requirements after officials said more than 6,500 people registered to vote in 2016 using out-of-state driver’s licenses. New Hampshire is central to President Trump’s claim of widespread voter fraud despite little substantial evidence as he claimed thousands were bused to New Hampshire to vote illegally.

  • Elections in a battleground state like New Hampshire are often determined by a few thousand votes. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Maggie Hassan, who defeated GOP incumbent Kelly Ayotte, narrowly won the state in 2016.

The backdrop: Voting restriction measures have come under legal scrutiny. Last year, a New Hampshire judge blocked parts of a 2016 voting law that would fine or jail first-time voters if they failed to submit residency paperwork within 10 days of registering to vote.

What's next: The measure, passed Wednesday, mirrors a similar proposal lawmakers passed recently. Both are expected to merge by a conference committee, and would go into effect next year. However, both are hanging in the balance amid uncertainty of Governor Chris Sununu's support.