Judge asked to shut down voter registration law

Staff photo by Damien Fisher Lucas Meyer, president of the New Hampshire Young Democrats, testifies Monday that his group has been spending money and conducting training sessions in the wake of the passage of SB 3.

MANCHESTER – More than a dozen lawyers are setting up shop in the Hillsborough Superior Court-North in Manchester for the next two weeks for the preliminary injunction hearing on the controversial voter residency law commonly known as SB 3.

Judge Kenneth Brown is being asked to stop the law from taking effect until after the lawsuit against the state — brought by the New Hampshire Democratic Party, the League of Women Voters, and some individual voters — is decided in court. This could mean the law, which critics claim will dampen college voter turnout, will not be in effect for the November midterm election.

Numerous witnesses are expected to testify, and the state is seeking to dig into the New Hampshire Democratic Party’s budget as part of the proceedings. Lucas Meyer, the president of the New Hampshire Young Democrats, testified Monday the state party has budgeted $150,000 to $250,000 for voter education in the wake of SB 3’s passage.

“The changes to the same-day voter registration form we see as confusing and intimidating to college students,” Meyer said.

The New Hampshire Young Democrats constitute an organization that is officially separate from the state party. However, Meyer sits on the state party’s executive committee, while the Young Democrats share office space in state party headquarters. Meyer said the Young Democrats

organization has been on alert since the law was first proposed.

The law still allows college students who live in other states, but who attend school in New Hampshire, to vote in New Hampshire elections. New Hampshire remains one of the few states to also still allow same day voter registration on Election Day.

The provisions of SB 3, however, require new voters to prove they either live in New Hampshire, or are domiciled in New Hampshire. Domicility is the concept used in New Hampshire law to describe out-of-state college students who attend school in New Hampshire, and are legally allowed to vote in Granite State elections.

If those new voters lack the required documents, such as a utility bill or a letter from their college stating where they live for the school year, they will have 10 days after the election to provide the documents to avoid potential criminal penalties.

Meyer testified that the bill seemed designed to keep college students from voting, especially due to the potential fines of up to $5,000.

“The $5,000 fine is financially crushing to college students,” he said.

The legal challenges to the law began soon after Republican Gov. Chris Sununu signed it last year. The criminal penalties established by SB 3 have been suspended while the lawsuit is pending.

Judge Charles Temple originally had the case in Hillsborough Superior Court-South in Nashua, but he recused himself for a potential personal conflict.

If SB 3 survives the legal challenge, it may be moot, given the law Sununu signed this year, HB 1264. That law requires all voters, including college students, to follow normal New Hampshire residency requirements.

That will mean college students from out-of-state will need to formally become New Hampshire residents to vote in New Hampshire elections, as well as obtain New Hampshire driver’s licenses and car registrations.

While critics have compared the law to a poll tax, the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled HB 1264 passes constitutional muster after a review requested by Sununu.

The SB 3 hearings are expected to continue through the end of next week. A trial is the case has yet to be scheduled.

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