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October 01. 2012 4:51PM

UPDATED: NH Supreme Court to hear voter registration case

CONCORD — The New Hampshire Supreme Court agreed Monday to assume jurisdiction on a dispute over new voter registration requirements that opponents argue could prevent college students from voting.

Attorney General Michael Delaney filed a motion Friday asking the state’s highest court to take over a pending case in Strafford County Superior Court, where a judge filed a preliminary injunction blocking the requirements last week.

With the general election a little more than a month away, the Supreme Court issued a statement saying it accepted the request for expedited original jurisdiction. The Supreme Court gave all parties involved — and there are many — until the end of business Thursday to file any additional arguments before the justices review the case.

The New Hampshire chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and the League of Women Voters challenged the law on behalf of four out-of-state college students.

Delaney’s office is asking the Supreme Court to overturn the Strafford County ruling.

Secretary of State William Gardner also disputed the county ruling, but reluctantly decided later Monday to post a court-ordered statement on the New Hampshire elections website.

“The Secretary of State disagrees with the following notice and is challenging its constitutionality in court,” Gardner posted above the link to the statement about college students and voting.

“Out-of-state students attending school in New Hampshire do not, as a consequence of choosing to vote in New Hampshire, have to obtain a New Hampshire driver’s license or register their car in New Hampshire,” the new posting on the Secretary of State website said.

Strafford County Superior Court Judge John M. Lewis last week ordered Gardner’s office to post the statement. Gardner said he would think it over and decide Monday whether to abide by an order he felt misinterpreted state voter registration requirements. In the end, he did.

“It was a court order. I’ll leave it at that,” Gardner told the New Hampshire Union Leader Monday evening.

Gardner said because he had not seen the Supreme Court order, he wasn’t sure how it would affect his office and its challenge to Lewis’ ruling.

In addition to posting the statement, Lewis ordered Gardner’s office to strike language from voter registration forms that were distributed in August: “In declaring New Hampshire as my domicile, I am subject to the laws of the state of New Hampshire, including laws requiring a driver to register a motor vehicle and apply for a New Hampshire driver’s license within 60 days of becoming a resident.”

The wording of the voter registration law has led to legal challenges that continue to grow more complicated. Delaney filed motions on behalf of the state asking Lewis and then the Supreme Court to take the case. House Speaker Bill O’Brien is also seeking a stay on Lewis’ order, but disagrees with Delaney’s case. On Monday he filed a motion with the Supreme Court asking to intervene on behalf of the House of Representatives.

O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, filed a similar request last week to intervene in the Strafford County Superior Court case. According to the motion filed Monday, the House of Representatives went to the higher court because it may assume jurisdiction before the lower court rules on the matter. O’Brien contends that Delaney is not presenting arguments the House wants to be used in an effort to support the voter registration law.

dalden@unionleader.com

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