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N.H. Election Chief: Voters Should Have to Claim Residency to Participate

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In one of its strongest public statements on the issue yet, the Secretary of State’s office said it doesn’t believe people who are merely domiciled in New Hampshire should be allowed to participate in its elections and the state should establish a single residency standard for voting eligibility.

Testifying on the latest in a line of bills that seeks to redefine the state’s residency standards, Deputy Secretary of State Dave Scanlan said current law effectively allows for two separate classes of voters: people who are here for the election but not necessarily full-time residents, and those who are. Instead, Scanlan said, the same standards should apply to everyone.

“Our position would be that just being domiciled here and not being a resident is an absurd result,” Scanlan said. “You should be a resident to have your domicile in the locality where you are going to vote.”

In other words, you should not just be able to say you’re in New Hampshire “for the indefinite future.” The bill on deck Thursday would remove that key clause from the state’s residency definition, leaving it to state that a resident is someone who has “demonstrated a current intent to designate that place of abode as his or her principal place of physical presence to the exclusion of all others.” (If all of this sounds familiar, it’s because another bill proposing a similar revision has been stirring fierce debate among those who follow New Hampshire election policy. That bill passed the Senate along party lines but is awaiting further committee review.) 

Establishing a stricter residency standard, Scanlan acknowledged Thursday, could affect college students or others who might not live in New Hampshire full-time.

“A student would have to decide whether they want to claim if they're a resident of the state of New Hampshire,” Scanlan said, “and if they do, they're subject to whatever else would be required of any other resident of the state of New Hampshire.”

That, in turn, drew dissent from voting rights advocates, who said the state would effectively be telling students they have to obtain in-state driver’s licenses or car registrations in order to vote here — a standard the state Supreme Court has previously rejected.  

At the same time, the Secretary of State’s office didn’t take an official position on another bill introduced Thursday that would more explicitly address student voting eligibility.

House Bill 1543 tells college students their attendance at an in-state university, on its own, “is not sufficient to entitle the student to vote there.” It would require students to come up with other documentation showing “whether he or she intends to make this state their home for the time being.”

“In my opinion, merely going to college here is not proof of domicile. There are other ways to prove domicile that anyone else in New Hampshire has to show, and I believe the college students should have to show that,” said its sponsor, Rep. Brian Stone of Northwood. “I don’t think just because you go to school here you should be entitled to have an assumed domicile.”

Casey McDermott is a senior news editor at New Hampshire Public Radio. Throughout her time as an NHPR reporter and editor, she has worked with colleagues across the newsroom to deepen the station’s accountability coverage, data journalism and audience engagement across platforms.

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