Secretary of State weighs in on New Hampshire voting registration law

Friday October 5, 2012

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) -- New Hampshire Secretary of State William Gardner has weighed in on the state’s new voter registration law, saying "it cannot be" that non-residents can somehow claim domicile for voting purposes only.

Gardner submitted an affidavit Wednesday as the state Supreme Court prepares to hear a dispute over the law, which was passed by the Legislature over Gov. John Lynch’s veto.

It requires new voters to sign a statement saying 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.

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.

Gardner said all relevant statutes require domicile in the state and a current intent to remain.

"Once you have established domicile under the voter registration law, you have established domicile for the purpose of determining residency," Gardner wrote. "Once you have established domicile for the purpose of determining residency, you have established an obligation to follow state law. This specifically includes the laws requiring one to get a New Hampshire’s driver’s license. To suggest that there is a separate definition of ‘domicile’ for voting purposes is wrong."

Gardner said he is aware of many letters and complaints through the years that highlight various incidents of both voter confusion and registration conflicts. He said perhaps one of the most compelling cases was when he received a phone call from an official in Hanover who said a student blamed her for the loss of a scholarship exclusive to students originating from a certain geographic area in his home state of Pennsylvania.

"As a result of registering to vote in New Hampshire and declaring New Hampshire his domicile, the student’s scholarship was revoked when his home state was notified of this change," Gardner wrote. "This student blamed the local election official for his misfortune because he believed he had not been fully informed of the details of declaring New Hampshire as his domicile."


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