New Hampshire-style voting rules for college students could become the new national standard thanks to a proposal from Rep. Chris Pappas.
Pappas’ Protect the Youth Vote Act, rolled into the John Lewis Voting Rights Act passed by the House this week, would bar states from creating rules that prevent out-of-state students from voting in their elections.
Maya Getter, with the liberal New Hampshire Campaign for Voting Rights, said Pappas’ bill allows college students to vote in the state where they attend college once they move into a dorm or off-campus housing.
“The whole point is to remove purposeful barriers to young people voting,” Getter said.
New Hampshire has allowed college students from other states to vote in Granite State elections since a Supreme Court ruling in the 1970s, according to New Hampshire Secretary of State William Gardner.
“A college student can vote, they have the right to vote,” Gardner said.
There is no one national rule when it comes to college students being able to register to vote, according to data compiled by Vote America. Most states allow college students from other states to vote, so long as they register as a resident of the state where they go to college. New Hampshire’s voting rules are different, in that you don’t necessarily have to be a resident of the state.
After the passage of the 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age to 18, New Hampshire tried to restrict people from voting if they had a firm intention of leaving the state at a fixed time in the future, such as a college student who would return home after graduation. The “firm intention” requirement ended up being overturned through a lawsuit, and out-of-state college students have been voting here ever since.
Gardner said New Hampshire’s rules allowing people who domicile in the state to vote has caused some confusion over the years. He once had an Australian couple in New Hampshire for a ski vacation who tried to register to vote.
Subsequent legal cases helped define qualified New Hampshire voters as anyone who domiciled in the state. Someone who domiciles in New Hampshire, like a college student or a long-term temporary employee, lives most of the time in the state but has legal residence in another state.
If someone who is domiciled in New Hampshire registers to vote in New Hampshire, they cannot also vote in their home state.
The 2017 law, SB 3, sought to tie voting rights to residency, by requiring all voters to show proof that they live in the state full-time. This could be done by providing an affidavit from a landlord or college official, or by getting a New Hampshire driver’s license, under SB 3.
All people moving to New Hampshire are required to get a driver’s license within the first six months, but opponents to SB 3 compared that requirement to the Jim Crow-era poll taxes in the South.
Getter said Pappas’ proposal won’t alter individual state laws on residency, but it will ban states from requiring voters to have driver’s licenses.
“Residency requirements, drivers license or state I.D. requirements, these are a barrier to voting,” Getter said. “These things are very targeted to young voters and voting rights advocates are concerned.”
Polls show an overwhelming majority of Americans support requiring some form of standardized I.D. to vote.
Not everyone is convinced that the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, with the Pappas Youth Vote text, needs to be enacted. Jason Snead, executive director of Honest Elections Project Action, a conservative advocacy group, told the Associated Press the bill was more about power than voting.
“This bill is a federal power grab and a gift to partisan, frivolous litigators who will use it to manipulate state laws and throw all federal elections into chaos, further undermining voter confidence in fair and accurate elections,” Snead said.
And if, as the adage goes, “all politics is local,” Democrats backing this bill may have a tough time explaining why they want out-of-state college students voting to set local property taxes or for members of the school board.
The League of Women Voters, along with the state Democratic Party challenged SB 3 in court, and the state Supreme Court struck down the law this summer. Gardner said since the ruling, people have been confused about who can and who can’t vote in New Hampshire.
Gardner said since the ruling was issued, he’s heard from town clerks who have been fielding requests from people who own summer homes in New Hampshire and who are now interested in voting here. The answer, for now, Gardner said, is no.