College students challenge NH voter registration law

Posted Sept. 14, 2012, at 4:47 a.m.

DOVER, N.H. — Two University of New Hampshire students who plan to vote in the November election are asking a superior court judge to block portions of the state’s amended voter registration law.

The UNH students are plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed Wednesday in Strafford County Superior Court by the League of Women Voters of New Hampshire.

Students attending Keene State College and Southern New Hampshire University are also named in the suit, which is being litigated with assistance from the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The students claim new voter registration forms in use in New Hampshire could potentially discourage out-of-state college students from casting ballots here.

The new registration forms require voters to sign a statement declaring they are subject to all laws that apply to residents. That includes “laws requiring a driver to register a motor vehicle and apply for a New Hampshire driver’s license within 60 days of becoming a resident.”

The plaintiffs claim the Legislature is seeking to “freeze out” certain eligible voters, such as visiting college students, by requiring them to sign the statement.

Under state law, voters aren’t required to be permanent residents of New Hampshire in order to vote here. Anyone who maintains a “voting domicile” in the state is eligible to cast a ballot. People studying in New Hampshire can also vote here if they choose.

The lawsuit asks the court to either block enforcement of the law or to rule that voters who plan to leave the state in the future aren’t required to register their cars here, according to information provided by the League of Women Voters.

“We believe the law is a deliberate attempt to keep college students who have a constitutional right to vote while they attend school in New Hampshire from exercising that right in the fall elections,” LWV election law specialist Joan Flood Ashwell said in a prepared statement.

Claire Ebel, executive director of the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union, said the group is also challenging the voter registration law on the grounds that it violates the equal protection clauses of the federal and state constitutions. She pointed out that a student from Connecticut who attends UNH, but chooses to cast an absentee ballot in Connecticut, would not be required to undergo the same registration requirements as an out-of-state student who registers to vote in New Hampshire.

“Every out-of-state student who attends school in New Hampshire has the constitutional right to register and to vote in New Hampshire,” Ebel said. “This law treats students differently, based solely on their decision to register and vote in New Hampshire.”

Ebel said a court hearing is scheduled for 2 p.m. on Sept. 19 on the plaintiffs’ petition.

“The court understands that this is an issue that has to be expedited, because we’re talking about an election that’s less than two months away,” she said.

Among the plaintiffs are 21-year-old Manchester resident Megan Arsenault, a Rumford, Maine, native who is attending Southern New Hampshire University; UNH student Hannah Rivers, a 19-year-old from Nebraska who is living in Durham; Taylor Pacheco, a 22-year-old UNH student from East Sandwich, Mass., who currently lives in Dover. Ariel DeLaura, a 20-year-old from New Haven, Conn., is another plaintiff. She is attending Keene State College, and has lived in Keene since 2010.

“College students shouldn’t be intimidated or harassed for exercising their constitutional right to vote,” America Votes N.H. political and field director Jessica Clark said in a prepared statement. “It is our hope that this case will bring clarity to our election laws especially for students who have the right to vote in New Hampshire.”

Voter ID law leads to complaints

The League of Women voters has received approximately two dozen complaints following the primary election, according to Ashwell, including many reports about difficulties involving the state’s new voter identification requirements.

The voter identification law was also passed by New Hampshire’s Republican Legislature in 2012. It will phase in a photo identification requirement, beginning with this election cycle. The primary served as a trial run for the new identification requirements, which will go into full effect in the general election in November.

During Tuesday’s primary, voters were asked to voluntarily present photo identification by election officials before they received a ballot. Any voter who did not present an approved photo identification was still permitted to vote.

On Wednesday, Ashwell listed some of the problems reported to the League of Women Voters of New Hampshire by voters around the state.

In Manchester, she said, several voters reported being told they had to present a photo identification in order to vote. In Newmarket, numerous complaints were received the week before the primary about a sign indicating photo identification would be required.

A voter in Barrington also said a sign was posted on primary day indicating photo ID would required without any explanation of the new law. Complaints regarding signs were also received from Canterbury, Chichester and Kensington.

A Sunapee voter reported election officials there were “very insistent” about seeing photo identification in order to allow voters to cast ballots. Election officials in Salem were said to be “making it difficult” for people to vote.

An Epping voter reported officials there were giving “misleading information.” Separate complaints were logged against election officials in Farmington and Goffstown.

Complaints related to the primary election were also received from Londonderry, Peterborough and Rollinsford, Ashwell said.

(c)2012 the Foster’s Daily Democrat (Dover, N.H.)

Visit the Foster’s Daily Democrat (Dover, N.H.) at www.fosters.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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