Wednesday October 10, 2012

CONCORD, N.H. -- The state Supreme Court sided with a lower court judge Tuesday and left a new voter registration law on hold, clearing the way for out-of-state college students to continue to vote in New Hampshire.

The high court, in its 3-2 decision, said the state did not prove the lower court erred in leaving the old law in effect pending resolution of the case. Two justices dissented, arguing new laws are presumed constitutional until found otherwise and thus the law should be allowed to be implemented.

"Because of the complexities of the issues raised and the imminence of the upcoming election, we think it unrealistic to expect that this case could be concluded in both the superior court and this court prior to the election," the court said.

Students traditionally have been allowed to declare the state their home without holding legal residency, which involves an intent to stay for an extended period of time. And in 1972, a federal judge ruled that the state could not forbid out-of-state students from voting in New Hampshire even if they planned to leave after graduation.

But under a law passed this year, new voters would have been required to sign a statement saying they declare New Hampshire their home and are subject to laws that apply to all residents, including laws requiring drivers to register cars and get a New Hampshire driver’s license. The statement doesn’t specifically require students to be residents but makes them subject to hundreds of laws involving residency.

Strafford County Superior Court Judge John Lewis ordered the state to issue new voter registration forms without that paragraph, saying it was at odds with state law and would have a "clear, harmful effect" on the voting rights of college students and others.

The law, which was passed over Democratic Gov. John Lynch’s veto, was challenged by the League of Women Voters of New Hampshire and four students represented by the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union.