CONCORD — The American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire wants the courts to stop the implementation of a new voting law until after the New Hampshire presidential primary.
The law, known as HB 1264, changed the definition of “resident,” removing the words “for the foreseeable future” from the state’s definition. Secretary of State William Gardner has argued that the law’s effects are limited.
The ACLU disagreed, and in February filed a lawsuit argued that the law had the effect of requiring voters to get New Hampshire drivers’ license and register their cars in New Hampshire.
“The intent for HB 1264 is to merge the definition of residency and domicile,” said Gilles Bissonnette, legal director of the New Hampshire ACLU. He argued the new definition contradicts another law around residency for purposes of registering cars. “It arguably means individuals who are domiciled here are not residents for motor vehicle purposes,” Bissonnette said.
Bissonnette said that the state has not provided clear information on how the law will be enforced. Hanover town clerk Elizabeth McClain said she has fielded questions from about two dozen Dartmouth College students about registering to vote. In testimony for the ACLU, she said she believes the confusion around the law will keep otherwise-qualified students from voting.
In the motion, ACLU attorneys recount the stories of several students from other states who wish to vote in New Hampshire, but have gotten confounding guidance on if or when they would have to register their cars here.
“Enjoining HB 1264 undoubtedly promotes the public interest by avoiding the chilling effect of large scale voter confusion, particularly among college students, many of whom will be voting for the first time,” the motion states.
Gardner has maintained that HB 1264 does not change anything about voter registration.
On Monday, a Hillsborough County Superior Court judge dismissed part of a separate voting laws suit.
In that case, the League of Women Voters challenged the constitutionality of the so-called SB 3 law that more closely ties voter registration and residency. In the ruling, Judge David A. Anderson wrote that the legislature had the authority to define what it means to be “domiciled” in New Hampshire. Other parts of that lawsuit are going forward.
State House Bureau Chief Kevin Landrigan contributed to this report.