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The fight for voting rights is alive once again. Republican members of the New Hampshire state legislature have proposed a bill that would prohibit local college students from voting in that state. Sponsored by Representative Gregory M. Sorg of Franconia, the bill would force students to vote in their parents’ home state, rather than the one under whose laws they currently reside. Sorg claims that the bill would give the helm back to “people who live in these towns…[residents] who have a stake in the future.” Under the bill, in order to be able to vote, a student would have to prove an intent to stay in the state after graduation by either participating avidly in civic life or “paying in-state tuition.”
Temporary government employees as well as military personnel stationed in the state would also be denied New Hampshire voting rights. In other words, New Hampshire Republicans say they do not want people deciding laws who will not be around to feel their impact.
Quite simply, this attempt by New Hampshire legislators to make it more difficult for college students and other temporary residents to vote is reprehensible, and their reasoning for the bill is fundamentally flawed. First of all, the notion that long-term commitment to a community ought to be a prerequisite for the right to vote there goes against both American tradition and good sense. If one is subject to the laws of a state, she must have a say in the creation of those laws. If a Dartmouth College student is charged with a crime, it will be the laws of New Hampshire, not those her “home” state, that dictate her punishment.
Furthermore, Republican legislators are attempting to impose the standard of long-term commitment to a very specific and arbitrary group. Why not force all residents to prove their intent to remain Granite staters indefinitely? Maybe it has something to do with what New Hampshire House Speaker, William L. O’Brien, recently told an audience of non-student residents. College students, he said, are “basically doing what I did when I was a kid and foolish, and voting as a liberal.” It is clear that Republican lawmakers in New Hampshire are attempting to prevent left-of-center students from influencing elections in their notoriously close elections. They ought to be ashamed, for when did it become acceptable for elected officials to attempt to influence elections by restricting the electorate?
Also, if we are to take Sorg at his word that only those who will be around to see the impact of the policies they support ought to have the franchise, that would mean barring the elderly and terminally ill from voting as well. Where do we draw the line? Which other demographic may have its right to vote called into question? It is disheartening that a politician would use such flimsy logic to underpin a measure dealing with something as grave as voting rights. Since no calls are coming from Concord for the disenfranchisement of either of these groups, it can be safely presumed that political motivation lies behind the veneer.
Students in New Hampshire are full members of the New Hampshire community. Those who have term-time jobs pay taxes to the state of New Hampshire and are uniformly subject to the state’s laws. There is no barrier between the statutes and practices of the state and the students who reside there. Any statement to the contrary is in conflict with reality.
The 1972 Supreme Court case Dunn v. Blumstein invalidated length-of-residency requirements for voting similar to those Sorg would like to impose. In a majority opinion written by the great civil rights hero and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, the court held that length-of-residency requirements did not guarantee that “knowledgeable voters” alone would vote in the election. Because of this ruling—which, at the time, struck down a Hanover, NH restriction on Dartmouth students—it is unsure that Sorg’s bill would even be legal. Should the rest of the legislature come to its senses and vote down the bill, those temporary residents whose voting rights are apparently so dangerous to the future of the Granite state ought to send Sorg and O’Brien to the door.
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