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September 24. 2012 2:49PM

Court rules out-of-state students have right to vote in New Hampshire

Strafford County Superior Court Judge John Lewis ruled Monday that out-of-state students have the right to vote in New Hampshire, a decision immediately criticized by top Republican legislators.

“New Hampshire citizens have a right to elect individuals of their own choosing,” House Speaker William O'Brien said in a joint statement with Senate President Peter Bragdon. “Allowing non-residents into New Hampshire to dictate who will be our presidential choice, who shall be our governor, and who shall represent us in the Legislature takes away our voting rights.”

He added: “Legislating otherwise from the bench to say there are two classes of voters — all of us who reside in New Hampshire, and those residents of other states who choose to vote here because we are a battleground state — is judicial activism of the worst sort. The Supreme Court needs to act quickly to restore the voting rights of New Hampshire's citizens”

The law — passed in June by a Senate override of Gov. John Lynch's veto — required people to sign a form declaring New Hampshire as their domicile.

On Monday afternoon, Lewis directed Secretary of State Bill Gardner to reissue the form without the paragraph that states voters who declare New Hampshire as their domicile must register their vehicles and obtain a New Hampshire license within 60 days of becoming a resident.

“The state offers no compelling justification for this paragraph, which, again, presents an inaccurate expression of the law and has a clear harmful effect on the exercise of voting rights and education connected therewith,” Lewis wrote.

The state will also have to notify election officials in towns, cities and unincorporated places to use the new form for the November election.

Lewis also instructed the state to add a form to the Secretary of State's webpage by Oct. 1 to explain the process.

The New Hampshire chapters of the League of Women Voters and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a petition Sept. 12 in Strafford County Superior Court on behalf of four out-of-state college students.

They said the law is a direct attempt to prevent college students from voting because it refers to the words “domicile” and “residence” as having the same meaning; they argued the terms have different legal definitions.

Andy Martin, who said he is a resident of Manchester, filed two motions Monday to intervene in the case.

In a letter to Lewis, Martin asked the court to withhold from issuing an order and not to let the plaintiffs “dilute or confuse the legislature's intent to enforce a ruling of the New Hampshire Supreme Court.”

Martin, who is not an attorney, cited “Fischer v. Governor,” in which the state Supreme Court decided in 2000 that “domicile rather than residence [was] a prerequisite for voting.” Additionally, the court determined “transients do not have the right to vote here because they already have a 'voting domicile' in their home states,” according his motion.

For more information about voting and elections, visit the Secretary of State's website at sos.nh.gov/

jquinn@newstote.com

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Hannah Rivers v. State of New Hampshire


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