March 7, 2011- On February 24th, the Election Law Committee of the New Hampshire House of Representatives held a public hearing on House Bill 176, legislation that would disenfranchise college students from voting in the state. If enacted, the bill would redefine domicile for students and federal government employees as the state in which they claimed domicile before moving to New Hampshire, essentially forcing them to vote absentee in a state where they no longer reside.
The proposed bill has been lambasted on constitutional, legal, and moral grounds. But the most distressing implication of HB 176 is its innate assertion that students are not truly members of their state and local communities, that the stake we hold in our politics is mitigated by the location where our parents happen to reside. The bill tells us, "Vote somewhere else."
But here in New Hampshire we live by a very different creed. In this state we say, "Live Free or Die." And last Thursday, college students, constitutional scholars, county clerks, elected officials, and ordinary citizens from all over the state and running the full political spectrum showed up in force to voice their strong opposition to the legislation.
The bill raises both state and federal constitutional questions, violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965, flies in the face of legal precedent from the 1970s overruling similar measures in a New Hampshire federal district court, and would inevitably lead to a flurry of practical implementation issues down the road. But setting these myriad faults aside, what truly unites opponents of HB 176 is our belief that the proposed law is anathema to the core values of New Hampshire and the United States.
Voting is both a fundamental privilege and obligation of citizenship. State House Speaker William O'Brien recently claimed that college students vote, "too liberal," "with their emotions," and that they lack sufficient "life experience" to vote in the state.