New Hampshire’s highest court on Friday struck down Republican lawmakers’ latest attempt to restrict voting in the crucial early voting state, ruling that language that ties the right to register to vote with the possession of a driver’s license violates the state constitution.
The state Supreme Court found that use of the word “residence” on the standard voter registration form, added in 2012, is unconstitutional and confuses voters. The form should use the word “domicile” instead, which includes those living in New Hampshire who do not re-register their cars and obtain new driver’s licenses within 60 days of moving to the state, the court found.
Critics said, and the court agreed, that the use of the word “residence” was likely to exclude from voting college students, active members of the military and other people who may have recently moved to the state or frequently move homes.
“Because the challenged language is confusing and inaccurate, and because, as the trial court found, it could cause an otherwise qualified voter not to register to vote in New Hampshire, we hold that, as a matter of law, the burden it imposes upon the fundamental right to vote is unreasonable,” the unanimous decision said.
In filing the lawsuit, the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union argued that the four out-of-state college students named in the complaint would be forced to pay a poll tax in order to vote in the state.
New Hampshire is already seeing a lot of attention from presidential hopefuls because it’s primary falls early in the election cycle, so winning the state is crucial to any candidate’s chances.
Other states have also made efforts to selectively choose their voters using similar residency requirements. Republican lawmakers in Ohio attempted to sneak a provision into the transportation budget this year which would have required residents who registered to vote to reregister their vehicles in the state. Gov. John Kasich eventually line-item vetoed the provision after significant pushback from Democrats in the state legislature and voting rights advocates.
Meanwhile, New Hampshire lawmakers are potentially looking at imposing a 30-day residency requirement on the state’s same-day voter registration law, another effort to prevent populations that typically vote for Democratic candidates from casting ballots.
The state already has one of the strictest voter ID laws in the country, which requires that the name on a voter’s photo identification card substantially match the voter registration. But studies, including one conducted by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, have shown that voter ID laws contribute to lower voter turnout, with the declines in voting greatest among younger and African American voters.