New Hampshire House tackles voter eligibility bills

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CONCORD, N.H. >> Tackling a handful of bills aimed at expanding or restrict voter eligibility, the New Hampshire House on Wednesday approved a 10-day residency requirement for new voters.

The bill, which now goes to the Senate, would require voters to be domiciled in the state for 10 days before an election. It also would change the definition of domicile to exclude those who are in the state temporarily or don't intend to make it their home. Under current law, "domicile" is generally applied to someone who plans to live in the state for the forseeable future — college students, example — while a "resident" plans to stay indefinitely.

Supporters argue the changes are needed to prevent fraud and to keep the votes of actual residents from being diluted by college students.

"If an individual comes from another state and votes in New Hampshire, it cancels out the vote of our citizens," said Rep. William Gannon, a Republican from Sandown.

A federal court ruled in 1972 that the college students have the right to vote where they are domiciled, but there have been repeated efforts by lawmakers to revisit the issue over the years. Rep. Wayne Burton described that lawsuit Wednesday in arguing against a proposed constitutional amendment to limit voter registration to residents and not merely to people domiciled in the state for voting purposes.

The same year the court case was decided, he enrolled at the University of New Hampshire after returning from military service in Vietnam. He and others said the constitution should be used as a vehicle to weaken fundamental rights.

"I spent quite a bit of time in the trenches and bunkers of Vietnam fighting, I thought, to save the right to vote in New Hampshire," said Burton, a Democrat from Durham. "When I got here, because I could not say I wanted to live in New Hampshire forever, I could not vote. This is wrong."

A majority of House members supported the proposal but not the two-thirds required to pass a constitutional amendment.

Also Wednesday, the House rejected bills that would have allowed any registered voter to send in a ballot by mail and would allow state and county prisoners to vote by absentee ballot both were rejected.


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