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  • Elyse Sedgley, left, points out someone who said it's not a bad thing to be a liberal, during a rally in front of the Legislative Office Building to protest House Bill 176, which would limit voters under 21 to be residents of their college town before they began attending college in order to vote, on Thursday, Feb. 24, 2011. Sedgley is a student at Plymouth State University, and originally from Hopkinton. The group of about 30 people chanted, "Kill the bill," and "If we can fight, we have the right!".

    (Katie Barnes/ Monitor Staff)
  • From left, Mike Reeves, Haley Levine, Kayla Claire, Krystal Jacobs, Maggie Peake, and Elyse Sedgley all sing a rendition of the Black Eyed Peas' song, Where is the Love, during a rally to protest House Bill 176, which would limit voters under 21 to be residents before attending college in order to vote, at the State House on Thursday, Feb. 24, 2011. All of the singers are currently students at Plymouth State University, except for Peake.

    (Katie Barnes/ Monitor Staff)
Friday, February 25, 2011

Students decry residency voting bill

CONCORD – A bill to strip college students of the right to vote conforms with the Founding Fathers’ view of domicile, its lone sponsor argued Thursday.

Rep. Gregory Sorg, R-Easton, said he merely wants to return residency for voting to where you came from and not where you’re attending school.

“This doesn’t take away the right to vote for anyone,” Sorg insisted. “This says you vote where you reside, and you don’t vote where you happen to spend a few years of your time but have a domicile somewhere else.”

But more than 100 students from across the state overwhelmed the few supporters of this bill (HB 176) to contend this would be a strike against representative democracy.

Many mocked House Speaker William O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, who recently told a conservative group in Rochester that out-of-state students attending school here should be unable to vote as they lack enough life experience and “think liberally.”

Joshua Denton, of Concord, attends the University of New Hampshire School of Law after growing up in New Jersey.

Denton is using the GI bill after serving in an Army infantry battalion in Iraq.

Seven years ago, he organized all in his unit to vote.

“Tell me to my face, Mr. Speaker, that I lack life experience,” Denton said.

If this becomes law, Denton said the state’s motto should be changed from “Live Free or Die” to “Taxation Without Representation.”

Jeremy Kaufman is president of the Young Democrats of New Hampshire.

At Dartmouth, the Republican, Libertarian and Democratic student leaders all united in opposition and collected the names of 700 on a petition against the measure.

“We believe it is not an issue of party or ideology,” Kaufman began. “We believe it is an issue of fairness and rights that all of us should have in a democracy.”

Because of delays and long-winded legislators, students didn’t got to speak until three hours after the hearings scheduled start.

Dozens of them who drove more than an hour to the Statehouse had to leave before they got the chance.

Despite this lack of timely student voices, the bill got plenty of opposition.

Secretary of State Bill Gardner went against it during a news conference prior to the hearing.

Assistant Attorney General Matthew Mavrogeorge said it clearly would run afoul of a 1972 New Hampshire Supreme Court decision in which a Dartmouth College student from Hawaii struck down a one-year residency requirement prior to voting here.

“Students can claim the place where they attend school as their domicile,” Mavrogeorge said.

A U.S. Supreme Court decision the same year ruled Article 26 of the Constitution was absolute in that there could be no barrier to voting for any selected group, he added.

Confronted with those rulings, Sorg said lawmakers must ignore them.

“I am asking you to change the law to what it is constitutionally required to be,” Sorg said. “I swore an oath to uphold the Constitution of New Hampshire, not particularly to any federal court case.”

Keene City Clerk Patricia Little said despite the presence of Keene State College, students do not overwhelm voter sentiment in her community. Studies show they play a much greater role every four years.

In 2008, voters age 18-24 represented 22 percent of the Keene electorate, Little said. This voting bloc’s clout dropped to 10 percent in 2010 and only 3 percent during a municipal election in 2009.

“It is difficult for us as election officials when you give us a statute change that is on its face unconstitutional,” said Little who’s been at her local elections post for 33 years. “It really brings a lot of contention and confusion and gives a bad taste to a lot of folks.”

No one in O’Brien’s House GOP leadership team signed in support of the bill and Deputy Majority Leader Shawn Jasper, R-Hudson, was critical of the wording while questioning Sorg on Thursday.

Among those who did register their backing were former Republican State Chairman candidate Julianna Bergeron of Keene and ex-Nashua GOP state Rep. Paul Harrington.

Kevin Landrigan can be reached at 321-7040 or klandrigan@nashuatelegraph.com.