Here’s the next big fight in the GOP’s national project of voter disenfranchisement: on Friday, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu signed a bill that will force college kids to become residents of New Hampshire in order to vote in one of the most consistently purple states in the country.
As Slate reports, HB 1264's requirement for voters to establish residency—as opposed to a domicile, which is how students were allowed to vote previously—is not cheap at all, which means that this is basically a poll tax:
The distinction between “domicile” and “residency” is entirely technical—a legal distinction exploited by the drafters of HB 1264 to single out student voters. Residency status triggers two obligations: Within 60 days of becoming a resident, an individual must get a New Hampshire driver’s license and register her car with the state. HB 1264 states that, by casting a ballot, a voter professes her intent to become a resident. Thus, students who moved to New Hampshire from elsewhere and brought their cars will have two months to fulfill residency requirements or risk incurring hefty fines.
Those requirements aren’t cheap. The cost of registering an out-of-state car can total several hundred dollars—hence the description of HB 1264 as a post-election “poll tax.” Car-driving students who wish to vote in New Hampshire, then, will have two options: Surrender their right to vote and remain “domiciled,” or exercise the franchise, become “residents,” and pay hundreds of dollars. If even a few hundred students decide that dealing with residency rules isn’t worth the hassle and legal risk, their absence could tilt elections away from Democrats.
New Hampshire, as you may recall, went for Hillary Clinton by less than three thousand votes in 2016, and then-Gov. Maggie Hassan defeated incumbent Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte by a little over a thousand votes. Following the election, Donald Trump made the profoundly baseless claim that he only lost in New Hampshire because its liberal neighbor, Massachusetts, “bused in” thousands of voters to vote illegally. There is no evidence for this ever happening, of course, because there doesn’t need to be.
But as Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern notes, the current effort has been ongoing for decades:
After the 26th Amendment lowered the national voting age to 18 in 1971, New Hampshire declared it would deny the ballot to college students who might leave the state after graduating. A federal court forced the state to scrap this plan in 1972, holding the Constitution protects students’ right to vote where they live. Forty years later, the GOP-controlled state Legislature revived efforts to disenfranchise college students, passing a bill that inaccurately told new voters they could only register if they planned to live in New Hampshire indefinitely. The state Supreme Court unanimously invalidated the law in 2015.
The Democrats do have one last chance to kill the bill before it goes into effect in 2019: winning in November. Sununu is up for re-election in 2018, as is every seat in the state House (where Republicans hold 216 out of 400 seats) and the state Senate, where Republicans have a two-seat majority out of 24 seats. Just one more reason why this year’s state-level elections are just as important as who controls Congress.