N.H. Democrats Seek to Reverse Voting Restrictions

Dec 28, 2018

Voters head to the polls in Bedford in the 2018 midterm elections.
Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR
 

Newly empowered Democrats are hoping to reverse two recent changes to New Hampshire's election laws before either fully takes effect.

One new law, requiring voters to provide more documentation if they register within 30 days of an election, remains tied up in court. The other, which ends the distinction between full-fledged residents and those claiming the state as their domicile for voting, takes effect July 1. Both passed under Republican-led Legislatures, but Democrats won majorities in both the House and Senate in November, and they are drafting bills to essentially repeal both changes.

"I'm trying to put things back the way they were before," said Rep. Timothy Horrigan, who is sponsoring both bills.

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Horrigan, a Democrat, represents Durham, home to the University of New Hampshire. He and other opponents argue that the new laws amount to voter suppression among students who are from other states but attend college in New Hampshire. Previously, such students could declare the state their domicile for voting purposes without becoming residents subject to other requirements, such as registering their cards or getting New Hampshire drivers licenses.

Horrigan said he filed his initial requests for legislation even before the state primary election in September because he was hearing so much about the issue on the campaign trail.

"There's a lot of anger and frustration in Durham. People who actually live in college towns are very supportive of students voting there," he said.

But supporters of the new laws argue the old system created two tiers of voters, and that the changes will help restore confidence in elections.

"We've already gone through the debate, and the fact is, all we're trying to do is make sure those who claim they are domiciled here are domiciled here," said Sen. Regina Birdsell, R-Hampstead, who sponsored the bill regarding documentation for new voters. The state Democratic Party and League of Women Voters challenged it in court. The new requirements for voters registering within 30 days of an election took effect in 2017, but a judge blocked the penalties for noncompliance while the matter remains in court.

"Why would you want to repeal something that has virtually no negative effect at this point. It makes no sense to me," Birdsell said. "I think we should be good for right now. Let's see what transpires and if there are any holes, we can try to plug them at a later date."

Among the newly elected lawmakers is Garrett Muscatel, a Dartmouth College student who is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit challenging the voter registration law. He decided to run for the House after the passage of the bill regarding domicile and residency.

"When they just turned around and did something worse, I couldn't leave it up to the oldest Legislature in the country stand up for the rights of young people, so I decided to run for office to be a voice for people like me," he said.

Muscatel, a junior, said he was surprised at the support he found going door-to-door during his campaign.

"I'm hopeful there's a shift here," he said. "We have a lot of people, at least my constituents, backing making it easier for young people to get involved in the political process and have their voices heard."

 

-- Holly Ramer, Associated Press