After suggesting that Democrats were abusing the state’s same-day voter registration rules by “busing” in out-of-state voters, Chris Sununu clarified that he does not believe voters are being literally bused across the New Hampshire border en masse to participate in the elections — but he does favor stronger residency requirements to prevent potential abuses at the polls.
The debate over residency requirements resurfaced earlier this week after Sununu, in an interview with the Howie Carr Show, blamed Republicans’ political losses at the state level largely on New Hampshire’s existing voter registration rules.
“The Democrats got very sly. When they first took over in the late nineties and early 2000s, they changed the election law,” Sununu said. “We have same-day voter registration, and to be honest when Massachussetts elections are not very close, they’re busing them in all over the place.”
As noted by WMUR, the state’s same-day registration rules were in fact enacted in 1994 under a Republican-controlled legislature and Republican Gov. Steve Merrill. At the time, same-day registration was enacted as a compromise to avoid a federal push to adopt “MotorVoter” registration.
Sununu, when asked about his statements again after Wednesday night’s gubernatorial debate, said his comments were not meant to be entirely literal.
“I don’t want to imply I see buses coming over,” Sununu said. “More of a figure of speech that people are coming over, they’re temporarily here, they vote and then they leave.”
As one example, Sununu pointed to a case in which state Sen. Martha Fuller Clark allowed campaign staffers to stay at her home leading up to the 2008 and 2012 elections, and to use that as their chosen address on Election Day. (On Monday, Sununu claimed she was hosting 20 people, on Wednesday, he said there were “something like eight” involved. According to news reports at the time, the incident involved four staffers for the Obama campaign.)
As reported by the Portsmouth Herald at the time, the attorney general’s office ultimately determined that the staffers had not broken the law — noting that “there is no lengthy residency period which a citizen must meet before he or she can vote” and that the staffers had established Fuller Clark’s home as their domicile by staying there for several months surrounding the election.
There have been several attempts to establish a residency requirement in New Hampshire in recent years — one bill to establish a 30-day residency requirement passed both chambers in 2015 but was vetoed by Gov. Maggie Hassan. That measure earned support from Secretary of State Bill Gardner, but critics have countered that such requirements are unconstitutional and risk disenfranchising otherwise eligible voters.
If elected, Sununu says he’d support efforts to move forward on stricter residency requirements for voters.
“You know, by and large I think we do our elections very well here in New Hampshire. But in a bipartisan way there are Republicans and Democrats that believe that a residency requirement would make good sense for the state of New Hampshire,” Sununu said Wednesday. “I think it just makes sure that our votes for the true residents of New Hampshire are not being diluted by out-of-staters.”