Judge Overturns New Hampshire Voter Suppression
Voters in New Hampshire, like millions across the nation, have been struggling with laws that, under the guise of fighting fraud, place roadblocks to voting that disenfranchise large swaths of the population. Just last year, HB 176, which would have changed state law to prevent students from voting in the towns they attend school in was narrowly defeated in the legislature.
A court ruling yesterday, however, has struck a decisive blow to the voter suppression crowd, throwing out a new law pushed by the same shady characters behind HB 176. Up until recently, anybody registering to vote in New Hampshire had to sign this statement:
“In declaring New Hampshire as my domicile, I am subject to the laws of the state of New Hampshire which apply to all residents, including laws requiring a driver to register a motor vehicle and apply for a New Hampshire’s driver’s license within 60 days of becoming a resident.”
New Hampshire’s Governor, John Lynch, argued that this language conflates maintaining a “domicile” and being a “resident,” both of which bring different obligations and privileges. This confusion could discourage otherwise eligible voters, especially students, from voting in the upcoming election.
Concerned that the law would not adequately protect voting rights, Lynch vetoed the bill, but his veto was overruled by the state legislature. In response, the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union and four New Hampshire students who intended to vote in the 2012 election sued the state, with the League of Women Voters and other voting rights groups supporting their case.
Yesterday afternoon, Judge John Lewis asked the Secretary of State to issue new registration forms that struck the confusing language, and ordered local officials to switch to the updated forms. Predictably, the Governor’s office praised the decision while Republican House Speaker Bill O’Brien, who helped push this law as well as HB 176, denounced the ruling as “judicial activism.”
The only activism here, of course, is coming from O’Brien and his colleagues, who have decided to use their legislative power to make it harder and harder for people they disagree with to vote. O’Brien’s own words make it hard to see his actions as anything but partisan- while stumping for HB 176, he disdainfully described college students who vote as “basically doing what I did when I was a kid and foolish, voting as a liberal”
Regardless, this is a resounding victory for voting rights in New Hampshire, and a well-timed one at that, given that today is National Voter Registration Day. We would all do well to take cues from New Hampshire as we work nationwide to distinguish genuine reforms from the sort of shameless partisan manipulations that NHCLU, LWV, and Judge Lewis have fought to overcome.