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October 06. 2012 7:33PM

Who's a NH voter? Nominees for governor differ

CONCORD — As the state Supreme Court mulls when to hear and decide a dispute over new state voter registration requirements, the two major candidates for governor have taken opposite sides of the issue.

The high court has agreed to consider whether to overturn a lower court's ruling that blocks implementation of requirements outlined in a law passed this year. Opponents say those requirements could prevent some college students from voting. Proponents say only people who intend to live here should vote here.

The law requires those who register to vote to be informed that they must register their vehicles in New Hampshire and apply for a state driver's license within 60 days. The issue is whether residents should have certain rights that those who are merely “domiciled” in the state do not have.

The Attorney General's Office argued for an emergency stay of the lower court's order, while the House GOP majority, led by Speaker William O'Brien, moved to intervene, arguing that the attorney general was not accurately reflecting the House's intent.

Secretary of State William Gardner, who is charged with enforcing the law, said in an affidavit filed last week that state law is consistent in its use of the term “resident” and that “all relevant statutes require domicile in the state and a current intent to remain.”

Gardner wrote, “It cannot be that non-residents can somehow claim domicile for voting purposes only and be able to change the foundation of New Hampshire and its government by voting for its lawmakers and proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot.”

Republican gubernatorial nominee Ovide Lamontagne agreed with Gardner, a Democrat, saying: “Like all New Hampshire voters, I want to know my ballot is counted and that it is weighed equally among other New Hampshire residents.

“Allowing literally anyone to come into the state on Election Day, declare domicile, and cast a ballot, as the previous law did, cheapens the ballots cast by legitimate New Hampshire voters.”

Lamontagne said Democratic nominee Maggie Hassan “has repeatedly opposed efforts to secure the ballot box. She has opposed asking voters for any form of identification before they register or obtain a ballot.”

He said she opposed legislation to strengthen penalties for voter fraud, “and she opposed a bill making voter affidavits public for verification purposes.''

“We welcome residents from any state who recognize the quality of life we have here in New Hampshire and seek to make the Granite State their home,'' Lamontagne said. “In so doing, they agree to abide by our laws and are constitutionally guaranteed the right to vote in our elections. No one is disputing that right.

“On the other hand, temporary visitors who do not plan to remain in the state and are unwilling to agree to abide by our laws should not be permitted to cast a ballot in our elections. They should instead avail themselves of the absentee ballot process and vote in their home state.”

Hassan, through campaign manager Matt Burgess, said, “Ovide Lamontagne and the Bill O'Brien Tea Party Legislature are trying to prevent people from voting because, as O'Brien has made clear: He doesn't like the way they vote.''

“Maggie Hassan supports the right of all people living in New Hampshire to vote,'' Burgess said, “and she opposes this legislation for the same reasons that Gov. John Lynch vetoed it. It tries to block people living legally in New Hampshire from voting.”

Burgess said, “Between Ovide's opposition to a tuition freeze at our public universities, his support for the O'Brien Legislature that cut higher education funding by 50 percent, and now his opposition to the right to vote, young New Hampshire residents should be very concerned about Lamontagne's extreme priorities.”

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John DiStaso may be reached at jdistaso@unionleader.com.


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