Sununu signs voter residency law

Dems cry foul; argue new law is ‘voter suppression’

CONCORD – U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., calls HB 1264 a “voter suppression bill,” while state House Majority Leader Richard Hinch, R-Merrimack, refers to it as “a major win for election integrity and voters in New Hampshire.”

Amid the partisan political spin, Gov. Chris Sununu eschewed a public ceremony on Friday to sign HB 1264, the new law imposing residency requirement on New Hampshire voters.

“House Bill 1264 restores equality and fairness to our elections, and the Supreme Court has ruled the bill is constitutional, while affirming that New Hampshire has a compelling state interest in seeing this bill enacted,” Sununu, a Republican, said in a prepared statement.

“Finally, every person who votes in New Hampshire will be treated the same. This is the essence of an equal right to vote,” he added.

The state Supreme Court ruled Thursday in a split 3-2 decision that the law passes constitutional muster. Sununu sent the bill to the court in May after the House and Senate passed it. He had previously expressed concerns about the bill’s constitutionality. Sununu has given mixed signals about the bill, at times indicating he would sign it, and other times indicating he would block it.

Heretofore, out-of-state students attending institutions such as Dartmouth College or the University of New Hampshire could vote in Granite State elections. The law still allows college students to vote in New Hampshire elections, but requires those voters to follow the same residency laws as all people who move to New Hampshire.

Specifically, the law requires voters to obtain a driver’s license or non-driver identification and to register any vehicles in New Hampshire. People are free to not obtain those state documents, but they will not be allowed to vote in New Hampshire.

Friday’s statement removed all doubt where Sununu stands, while he may have handed a campaign issue to the two Democrats vying to take him on in the fall.

“Chris Sununu confirmed today for voters that his words mean nothing,” former state senator Molly Kelly said in a statement. “By signing HB 1264, he has violated voters’ trust. He will be replaced in November.”

Kelly’s opponent, Steve Marchand, had previously indicated he would have vetoed the law, and took aim and Sununu’s past statements about New Hampshire elections.

“In 2016, he claimed that busloads of voters from Massachusetts come north to negatively influence our elections,” Marchand said in a statement. “But as we approach the 2018 election season, it turns out the only person who is negatively influencing our elections process is Chris Sununu.”

Shaheen, herself a former New Hampshire governor, blasted Sununu for signing the law, saying it undermines the state’s reputation for civic participation.

“This new law is an egregious attack on voting rights, and will restrict access to the ballot box for students who rightfully want to exercise their civic duty,” Shaheen said in a statement.

The new law, which requires all voters to follow all state residency laws, will not take effect until next year. The current voting rules that allow out-of-state residents who live in New Hampshire, typically college students, to vote in New Hampshire elections will remain in place for the upcoming Sept. 11 primary and the November general elections.

Republicans who backed the bill, such as Hinch, called it a win for election integrity in New Hampshire.

“I don’t believe it is unreasonable for us to require that those who participate in our elections be residents of our state,” Hinch said in a statement. “What I do believe to be unreasonable is that we have had two classifications of voters in our state: those who abide by our statutes and laws as residents, and those who don’t.”

New Hampshire had been the only state in the county that allowed for out-of-state residents to vote in New Hampshire elections. New Hampshire allowed people who “domiciled” in the state to vote. The legal definition of domicility typically encompassed college students, and people who temporarily work and live in the state, but who are legal residents of other states.

In their ruling released Thursday, Supreme Court justices decided that requiring voters to choose between being a New Hampshire resident or not does not infringe on their right to vote. Non-resident college students are still free to vote in their home states via absentee ballot.

Given the stakes, there is likely to be a legal challenge to the law, similar to the current lawsuit regarding SB 3. Sununu signed SB 3 last year, a law which institutes deadlines for out-of-state voters to prove the are domiciled in New Hampshire. It also establishes criminal penalties if the voters fail to meet those deadlines. It’s not yet clear what will happen to that lawsuit, brought by the New Hampshire Democratic Party and the League of Women Voters, in light of the new law.

U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., also a former governor, expressed disappointment with the current officeholder.

“Gov. Sununu broke his word by signing this shameful attempt at partisan voter suppression into law, which is a giant step backward for our state and has the potential to disenfranchise thousands of Granite Staters,” Hassan said.

Damien Fisher can be reached at 594-1245 or dfisher@nashuatelegraph.com or @Telegraph_DF.