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Governor calls for Supreme Court review of voting bills

By Dave Solomon
State House Bureau

May 10. 2018 10:00PM
Voters cast ballots at Gilbert H. Hood Middle School in Derry. (Union Leader file photo)

CONCORD — A bill that defines residency for purposes of voting is headed for the desk of Gov. Chris Sununu, who on Friday called on the state Supreme Court to review the bill for “potential unintended consequences.”

Sununu has suggested for months that he will veto the measure if he determines it would suppress the student vote from colleges and universities across the state.

Supporters of the bill say it only requires that students declare residency if they plan to vote, while opponents of the bill, HB 1264, claim it amounts to a poll tax because those students would be required to obtain a New Hampshire driver’s license and register their vehicles here.

The bill first passed the House on March 6 and the state Senate on May 2. The Senate amended the bill to move the implementation date to July 1, 2019. The House concurred with that change on Thursday, setting the stage for the bill to be sent to Sununu.

The bill standardizes the definition of “resident,” “inhabitant,” “residence,” and “residency” in state law.

Current law reads that residency is established when someone demonstrates “a current intent to designate a place as his or her principal place of physical presence for the indefinite future to the exclusion of all others.”

The change in HB 1264 eliminates the phrase “for the indefinite future,” which courts have struck down as too broad a standard to apply to a voting requirement. Removing that language from the definition of residency should enable a residency requirement for voting to pass court challenges, according to the bill’s sponsors.

Another bill that has passed both chambers, HB 372, says essentially the same thing, but was amended in the Senate.

Senators added a lengthy preamble designed to inform any judges who might review the law in the future that the Legislature’s intent is that only residents get to vote.

The House declined to agree with those changes, and a conference committee of representatives and senators will be convened to work out a compromise.

Sununu has said previously he has concerns about both bills, particularly as they relate to college student voting.

“The governor’s position has not changed,” said his spokesman, Ben Vihstadt, after the May 2 vote in the Senate. “He has serious concerns with both HB 372 and HB 1264, and does not support either bill in their current form.”

After Thursday’s vote, Vihstadt offered further clarification: “Sununu remains opposed to HB 1264 and SB 372 and believes that the bills should undergo a strict review by the New Hampshire Supreme Court in order to determine any potential unintended consequences.”

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