CONCORD — The American Civil Liberties Union has sued the state on behalf of two college students who claim a new law that requires a New Hampshire driver’s license to vote violates their constitutional rights and represents a 21st-century “poll tax.”
Caroline Casey is originally from Louisiana and Maggie Flaherty is from California. Both women are sophomores at Dartmouth College who voted in the 2018 primaries and general elections in New Hampshire but maintain driver’s licenses from their home states, according to the lawsuit.
Under HB 1264, which was signed into law last year but doesn’t take effect until July, anyone who votes in New Hampshire must obtain an in-state driver’s license and vehicle registration within 60 days of casting their ballot.
“Under this law, I have to pay to change my California license to be a New Hampshire one. If I vote and don’t change my license within 60 days, I could even be charged with a misdemeanor offense with up to one year in jail. Make no mistake — this is meant to deter young people from participating in our elections, and students are an important voting bloc here,” Flaherty said in a statement provided by the ACLU of New Hampshire.
The new Democratic majority in the state Legislature is seeking to overturn HB 1264 and another voter residency bill passed by Republicans during the last session through new legislation.
The ACLU lawsuit, if successful, would constitute a more permanent reversal. The civil rights group argues that HB 1264 violates the First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment because it “imposes a severe burden on the right to vote ... does not advance a compelling state interest, and because it is not narrowly tailored to advance such an interest.”
The law also violates the intention of the Twenty-sixth Amendment, which lowered the voting age to 18, according to the lawsuit.
Supporters of the voting residency laws say they will improve the integrity of New Hampshire’s elections.
“Just this past July, the NH Supreme Court issued an advisory opinion on HB 1264 stating there is nothing unconstitutional about requiring individuals to make a choice as to where they are residents,” House Minority Leader Richard Hinch of Merrimack said in a statement.
The Supreme Court’s opinion, which it issued at the request of the governor’s office, concluded that HB 1264 did not violate the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment or several provisions within the state Constitution. It did not specifically address the First Amendment or the Twenty-sixth Amendment claims leveled in the ACLU’s lawsuit.
“I do not understand what is so unreasonable for us to require that those who participate in our elections be residents of our state,” Hinch added in the statement. “What I do believe to be unreasonable is that we have had two classifications of voters in our state: those who abide by our statutes and laws as residents, and those who don’t. Choosing New Hampshire as your domicile for voting should subject each and every one of us to the same obligation of state citizenship. This bill is about ensuring our elections remain fair for all who cast a vote in our state.”