Tuesday October 2, 2012

CONCORD, N.H. -- The state Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear a dispute over New Hampshire’s new voter registration law.

The law, passed by the Republican-dominated Legislature over Gov. John Lynch’s veto, requires new voters to sign a statement saying that they declare New Hampshire their domicile 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.

A Strafford County Superior Court judge last week sided with out-of-state college students and civil liberty groups who challenged the law and ordered the secretary of state’s office to remove the paragraph about residency laws from the voter registration form. That prompted the attorney general’s office to ask the state Supreme Court to put the lower court’s ruling on hold and to review the case itself.

The high court agreed Monday and set a deadline of the end of the day Thursday for the parties to file responses.

In his ruling, Strafford County Superior Court Judge John Lewis said the wording of the new registration form was at odds with state law and would harm the rights of students who traditionally have been allowed to declare the state their domicile for voting purposes without holding legal residency. The statement doesn’t specifically require students to be residents but makes them subject to hundreds of laws involving residency.


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Separate from the Supreme Court’s action, the state also has asked Lewis to reconsider his motion, and to reject House Speaker Bill O’Brien’s request to be made a party in the case.

O’Brien, who has argued that out-of-state students should not be "diluting" the votes of state residents, is seeking to join the case because he believes the attorney general’s office has failed to adequately defend the law and hasn’t fully explained the Legislature’s intent in passing it. In his motion filed Friday, he claims the Legislature clearly intended to change the state’s definition of residency, but Attorney General Michael Delaney disagreed, firing back that his office "is only able to defend the law that the Legislature actually passed, not the law that the Speaker wishes had been passed."

With just five weeks before the election, all sides have urged the courts to settle the issue quickly.