When college students are of voting age and duly registered at a New Hampshire institution, they should be able to vote in that state; they are as much a part of the Granite State as anyone else. But New Hampshire’s Republican-dominated legislature, in a nakedly partisan move, passed a measure requiring student voters to sign a statement expressing their intention to become permanent residents. Under this measure, students would be expected to change car registrations and drivers’ licenses, among other burdens.
It’s transparently a way to discourage students from voting. Last week, the state Supreme Court effectively blocked the measure for the time being, on the grounds that it is unrealistic to think the case will be settled before the November election.
And when it finally considers the case on the merits, the court should throw out the measure entirely, because it is an unjustified infringement on students’ right to vote.
New Hampshire is the only state to try to limit student participation in such a blatant manner. The requirements, passed over Democratic Governor John Lynch’s objections, would particularly harm students who have scholarships from their home states based on their residency there. The ostensible justification for new voting rules is, of course, fear of fraud. But the legislature didn’t supply evidence of fraud by students; what was clear was that GOP lawmakers hoped to keep a Democratic-leaning bloc from the polls.
Citing potential fraud, 19 GOP-dominated legislatures across the country have sought to put up new obstacles to voting; they’ve imposed stringent photo identification rules, cut back on early voting times, and put restrictions on voter-registration drives. But courts have been suspicious. A federal appeals court restored early in-person absentee balloting in Ohio, after the legislature canceled it. In Pennsylvania, a state court stopped the implementation of new laws requiring government-issued ID cards for voting. The court said it was too close to a presidential election to implement rules that could cause confusion. There were similar results in Wisconsin and Florida.
Governments should protect the integrity of the voting process, and those who commit fraud at the polls should be prosecuted. But Americans also have a fundamental right to vote, and using fraud as an excuse to drive away legitimate voters interferes with the democratic process. New Hampshire’s Supreme Court was rightly skeptical of a dubious law targeted at a specific voter bloc, and justices were wise to let students vote this year under the same rules the state has always followed.