New Hampshire GOP Takes Aim At An Influential Voting Bloc: College Kids

Legislation in New Hampshire would make it harder for out-of-state college students, who account for 70% of its university population, to vote there.

New Hampshire Republicans on Monday renewed their ongoing efforts to limit voting rights for the state’s relatively large population of college students ― a move that student and voting rights groups say is a blatant attempt to suppress the votes of college students in an effort to improve GOP odds of victory in statewide and congressional elections.

Election law committees in both chambers of the New Hampshire legislature held hearings Monday on multiple pieces of legislation that would make it harder, and in some cases impossible, for most college students to vote in the Granite State, where college students make up roughly 11% of the population, a larger share than in any other state.

Voting rights groups say the bills take aim at the 70% of New Hampshire college students who move there from out of state to attend school. One bill would remove college IDs from the list of acceptable forms of identification under the state’s existing voter ID law. Another would prohibit college students from using their campus address as their legal place of domicile, which would make it virtually impossible for many out-of-state students to register to vote. A third bill would make it harder for college students to register in New Hampshire if they maintain an address in another state.

“This legislation is nothing more than a desperate attempt to concentrate political power and purge youth voters from participating in the democratic process,” Dow Drucker, a graduate student at the University of New Hampshire, told lawmakers during Monday’s state House hearing. “Instead of discouraging student voters in the state, there needs to be more of an effort to provide adequate voting resources and make it easier for college students to participate. Instead of attacking students’ interest in civic engagement, we should be rewarding it.”

First-time voter Marwah Al Thuwayni, 18, casts a ballot at the Bishop Leo E. O'Neil Youth Center polling place in Manchester, New Hampshire, Nov. 3, 2020.
First-time voter Marwah Al Thuwayni, 18, casts a ballot at the Bishop Leo E. O'Neil Youth Center polling place in Manchester, New Hampshire, Nov. 3, 2020.
Jodi Hilton/NurPhoto via Getty Images

College students are typically allowed to register and vote in local elections in all 50 states and in Washington, D.C. Voting rights advocates have long argued that barriers facing students need to be eased, rather than strengthened. College students who move from out of state live, attend school and often work in those jurisdictions, giving them a stake in local elections. They are also historically less likely to vote than older Americans, and promoting increased participation as soon as voters are eligible could help foster more long-term commitment to and belief in democratic governance, advocates argue.

“Students are as much a part of the state’s political community as anybody else,” Henry Klementowicz, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire, wrote in a local newspaper this month. “To say that they shouldn’t be able to vote simply because they attend school is not only plain wrong, but deeply troublesome. Our democracy should not disallow qualified voters from voting, just like we don’t disqualify those Granite Staters who spend a good chunk of every year in sunnier climates.”

College students have emerged as a political force in recent elections, as their turnout rates nationwide doubled between the 2014 elections and the midterm contests of 2018. That has excited Democrats, thanks to young voters’ tendency to espouse more liberal political views, and has terrified Republicans, who last year pushed to enact new restrictions on student voters ahead of the 2020 elections.

New Hampshire’s sizable population of college students has long been a target for Republican lawmakers there, and the push to limit student voting rights has intensified along with broader GOP crusades against ballot access this year. Like GOP state legislatures in other states, New Hampshire Republicans have latched onto former President Donald Trump’s favorite conspiracy theories in an attempt to justify their efforts. Last year, Trump baselessly asserted that “thousands and thousands of people” were coming to New Hampshire “from locations unknown” to cast ballots against him, reviving a false claim he made after narrowly losing the state in 2016.

Voters cast their ballots in Derry, New Hampshire, in the presidential election on Nov. 3, 2020.
Voters cast their ballots in Derry, New Hampshire, in the presidential election on Nov. 3, 2020.
Jodi Hilton/NurPhoto via Getty Images

New Hampshire Republicans now hold total control of the state legislature after winning back majorities in both chambers in November. Gov. Chris Sununu is also a Republican. But the GOP has fared far worse in federal elections: Republicans haven’t won a congressional race in the state since 2014, and Democrats have held both of its U.S. Senate seats since Sen. Maggie Hassan won a narrow victory over former GOP Sen. Kelly Ayotte in 2016.

College students were a key part of Hassan’s winning coalition, and could boost her re-election bid in 2022. Voting rights groups see the efforts to curb students’ ability to vote as a GOP scheme to strengthen their electoral chances in the state ― New Hampshire’s version of Republican attempts to limit voting rights for Black and Latino voters in other key swing states.

“The details have changed, but the intent stays the same: Republicans are simply unable to win federal office in New Hampshire without cheating,” said Ben Wessel, the executive director of NextGen America, an advocacy group that has declared New Hampshire “ground zero” for attacks on student voting rights.

New Hampshire college students lined up to testify against the legislative proposals during Monday’s hearings in the state assembly.

Grace Murray, a student at Plymouth State University, told lawmakers that the bills amounted to a “morally reprehensible” attack on the state’s college students.

“We pour your coffee, we bag your groceries, we serve your dinner,” Murray said. “College students, whether they previously lived out of state or not, are an important part of the community, and it’s about time that that was understood.”

Since Trump originally claimed fraud in New Hampshire four years ago, Republicans there have passed numerous bills to limit college students’ ability to vote, including a 2017 law that sought to force students to prove they intended to live in New Hampshire “indefinitely” in order to register in the state. A New Hampshire judge struck down that law as unconstitutional last year because it placed unequal burdens on young voters and college students.

The state appealed the ruling, but representatives from the ACLU of New Hampshire and other voting rights groups warned lawmakers Monday that the new bills they are considering are likely unconstitutional as well. And New Hampshire Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan told the committee that some of the new proposals were not possible to enforce or implement as long as the lawsuit is pending.

New Hampshire state Rep. Al Baldasaro talks to supporters of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump before he speaks during a campaign rally, Oct. 28, 2016, in Manchester, New Hampshire.
New Hampshire state Rep. Al Baldasaro talks to supporters of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump before he speaks during a campaign rally, Oct. 28, 2016, in Manchester, New Hampshire.
RYAN MCBRIDE/AFP via Getty Images

Few people testified in favor of the proposed voting restrictions during Monday’s House hearing, aside from New Hampshire state Rep. Al Baldasaro, a Republican who introduced one of the bills that voting groups consider most dangerous.

Baldasaro’s bill would prohibit students from using college IDs to vote, and would require the state’s colleges and universities to grant in-state tuition to students who register to vote there. While that sounds like a major potential benefit to New Hampshire students, the bill would actually “pit colleges and universities against students who relocate to New Hampshire” and possibly “incentivize schools to discourage their students from registering to vote,” Wessel, of NextGen America, argued in February.

Baldasaro said he proposed the legislation because New Hampshire’s laws had made college students a “special class” of voter that enjoys rights other citizens don’t have, in part because state residents who serve in the military still have to vote absentee, while college students who move to New Hampshire can vote like lifelong residents. But if New Hampshire were to move forward with these proposals, Wessel has argued, it would become by far the most restrictive state in the country for college students.

Most of Monday’s testimony consisted of people urging Republicans to kill the bills that would impose even more restrictions on New Hampshire voters, college students or otherwise.

Meanwhile, the New Hampshire GOP is also considering a number of other bills that would limit voting rights more broadly, including one that could require residents to show passports or birth certificates to prove their citizenship status in order to register ― a proposal that a federal judge found unconstitutional when Kansas attempted to implement it last year.

“This bill poses as a fair bill, and it pretends to put an end to unfounded allegations of voter fraud in New Hampshire,” Bill Kingston, a New Hampshire resident, testified during Monday’s hearing on that proposed legislation. “The problem I have with it is there is no voter fraud in New Hampshire, and the restrictions it seeks to impose are unconstitutional. If you pass this bill, there will be a number of lawsuits that will tie this up in court. This is a clear abuse of legislative power, and I urge you to abandon this unwise effort.”

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