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Bill aims to close voting ‘domicile loophole’ in election law

State House Bureau

February 14. 2017 9:43PM
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton signs her declaration of candidacy to appear on the New Hampshire primary in 2015 with New Hampshire Secretary of State William Gardner. Gardner is throwing the weight of his office behind election law changes. (REUTERS/UNION LEADER FILE)

CONCORD — Longtime Secretary of State Bill Gardner is throwing the weight of his office behind several proposed changes to state election laws, including a change in the definition of domicile for voting purposes proposed by a majority of Republican state senators.

SB 3, which has yet to be scheduled for a public hearing, is sponsored by 12 of 14 Republican senators and endorsed by the Secretary of State’s Office, according to David Scanlan, deputy secretary of state in the Election Division.

The bill attempts to close a loophole that makes it too easy for non-residents to vote here, according to the bill’s supporters.

“We have an issue in New Hampshire of defining the difference between a resident, an inhabitant and someone who is domiciled,” said state Sen. Andy Sanborn, R-Bedford, one of the Senate sponsors.

The state Constitution allows anyone whose “domicile” is in New Hampshire to vote here.

Under current law, a domicile for voting is described simply as “that one place where a person, more than any other place, has established a physical presence and manifests an intent to maintain a single continuous presence for domestic, social and civil purposes.”

SB 3 would take that one-sentence description and expand it into a five-paragraph definition that is much more specific.

In order to vote, someone would have to prove that the address they are providing as a domicile is “the principal or primary home ... in which habitation is fixed and to which a person, whenever he or she is temporarily absent, has the intention of returning after a departure or absence.”

A domicile test

The law would also require that certain factors be taken into account when establishing a domicile for purposes of voting. It must be the place where someone spends most nights of the year, and the location from which they would apply for a passport or file their taxes.

A portion of the bill could also impact campaign workers or students from out of state. It says that people who are in the state for temporary purposes, without the intention of establishing residency, “shall not be considered to have gained a domicile.”

“Evidence that a person who, prior to arriving in New Hampshire, was domiciled in another state and is temporarily present in New Hampshire for any purpose including, but not limited to vacation, short-term temporary work, volunteering for social or civic purposes, or volunteering or working on political campaigns is not sufficient evidence that the person has established a domicile in New Hampshire,” according to the bill.

The bill also addresses the circumstance in which someone leaves the state but continues to vote here, either in person or by absentee ballot, by prohibiting such voting: “If a qualified voter moves to another state, with the intention of making it his or her permanent home, he or she shall be considered to have lost his or her domicile in this state.”

Finally, the bill speaks to the concerns surrounding people who have been able to meet the domicile requirement by saying they intend to live here.

“A mere intention to change domicile in the future does not, of itself, terminate an established domicile before the person actually moves,” according to the bill.

Residency requirement

Scanlan said the Secretary of State is also supporting SB 106, which establishes a 13-day residency requirement.

The bill has had one public hearing, but has not been voted on in committee. If it becomes law, everyone registering to vote would be required to attest to the following statement:

“I understand that I must have been domiciled in New Hampshire for no less than 13 consecutive days before the first election in which I intend to vote. I understand that if I have not been domiciled in New Hampshire for at least 13 consecutive days prior to an election … I have not met the registration requirements for said election.”

In addition to SB 3 and SB 106, the Secretary of State is also supporting measures in the House and Senate that would transfer verification of voter affidavits from the Attorney General to the Secretary of State.

Those affidavits are turned in by voters who register before or on Election Day without proper identification.

Gardner is also backing a few housekeeping measures, including:

• HB 247, which requires the city or town clerk to retain voter registration forms;

• HB 389, which changes the procedures for assisting disabled voters;

• HB 390, which creates options for additional political parties on state ballots, and;

• SB 108, which provides absentee ballot applicants with the option of providing a phone number and an email address.

Bills opposed

The Secretary of State is opposing a bill that would require a voter who does not present a valid photo ID to vote by provisional ballot (HB 588).

The voter would have to present a valid photo ID no later than noon on the Friday following the election in order to have the provisional ballot counted.

Other bills that the Secretary of State opposes include:

• HB 249, which would end the prohibitions on showing a ballot, the so-called “ballot selfies” law that was enacted in 2014;

• HB 622, which would allow all voters to vote by absentee ballot, and allow certain people to register to vote using an absentee registration process; and;

• SB 109, which would allow a precinct moderator, “at his or her discretion,” to conduct a hand count of machine-counted ballots for verification.

New Hampshire Elections

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