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In Court, Students Share Concerns Over Election Law But Say They Could Still Register to Vote

Todd Bookman for NHPR

Two college students who are suing the state over its new voter registration rules took the stand on Thursday as part of an ongoing trial over the future of the law behind them. While both students said they found the law confusing, both acknowledged that it did not prevent them from registering to vote.

Both Spencer Anderson, a Dartmouth student, and Philip Dragone, a St. Anselm student, said the new law could deter other students from voting.

Dragone said he encountered several hurdles when attempting to register to vote. First, he said, the St. Anselm campus spans multiple towns, and when he initially attempted to register in Manchester he was redirected elsewhere. When he finally determined that he should register to vote in Goffstown, he said it took roughly 30 minutes to complete the registration process — in part because he lacked documentation of his on-campus address and in part because of confusion on the part of the local officials handling his registration.

“The people working at the town clerks office were clearly confused,\; they told me so,” Dragone said. “And they weren’t sure exactly what documentation to give me. They specifically addressed to me that the Secretary of State’s office was consistently changing things up.”

Dragone was ultimately able to complete the registration process and, under cross-examination from state attorneys, both he and Anderson confirmed that they are presently registered to vote in New Hampshire.

An attorney also pressed Anderson on whether he could identify any student who has been turned away because of the new law.

Cleveland, Waters and Bass Attorney Callan Sullivan, on behalf of the state: “You have not personally encountered any person who was planning to vote but has not voted because of SB3, correct?” Anderson: “Correct.” Sullivan: “And while you were at the polls in the 2018 general election, you did not observe any voters being turned away from the polls for having insufficient documents for registering to vote, correct?” Anderson: “Correct.”

Aside from the students, the court also heard testimony Thursday from Durham’s town clerk, who said the new registration process could create backlogs at her polling place, which traditionally sees one of the largest groups of election day registrants in the state.

The court also heard from an expert witness on line management, Dr. Muer Yang, who said that the new law could create significant delays at the polls — even if it only increases the total registration time by a few seconds — and those delays would be felt most significantly at larger polling places. (Yang also testified in an earlier hearing in this same court case over New Hampshire's new registration rules.)

“Even a small change in the registration time, on average, it can cause a substantial negative impact on the lines,” said Yang, an associate professor of operations and supply chain at the University of St. Thomas.

The trial will resume Monday, with additional witnesses who are expected to testify on the state’s behalf that the law did not demonstrably disenfranchise any voters in the 2018 elections.

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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