N.H. Supreme Court: Voter Form Language Unconstitutional

May 15, 2015

The state’s highest court has upheld a ruling that struck down a 2012 law linking registering to vote with state motor vehicle laws.

In a unanimous ruling the court called the voter form language  “confusing and inaccurate” and that it unreasonably burdens the fundamental right to vote.”

Out-of-state college students challenged the law, which added language to the form noting that drivers need to register vehicles and apply for a state driver’s license within 60 days of becoming a resident.

The ruling hinges on the politically fraught difference between residency and domicile.

Part 1 article 11 of the N.H. constitution says every person shall be considered an inhabitant for the purposes of voting in the town, ward, or unincorporated place where he has his domicile.

State law, meanwhile,  defines residency as  a person’s principle place of physical presence for the indefinite future to the exclusion of all others.

The basic difference, says the court, is that a resident has manifested an intent to remain in NH for the indefinite future, while a person who merely has a New Hampshire domicile has not.

The challenged language was added to the voter registration forms in 2012. Then- Governor John Lynch, vetoed the change, but was overridden by the GOP-controlled legislature.  

Similar language has appeared on voter registration forms here before. It was added in 2003, when republicans dominated Concord;  democrats removed it in 2007, when they were in control.