By Sayak “Sy” Mukherjee & Richard Sunderland
On February 24th, the Election Law Committee of the New Hampshire House of Representatives held a public hearing on House Bill 176, legislation that would disenfranchise college students from voting in the state. If enacted, the bill would redefine domicile for students and federal government employees as the state in which they claimed domicile before moving to New Hampshire, essentially forcing them to vote absentee in a state where they no longer reside.
The proposed bill has been lambasted on constitutional, legal, and moral grounds. But the most distressing implication of HB 176 is its innate assertion that students are not truly members of their state and local communities, that the stake we hold in our politics is mitigated by the location where our parents happen to reside. The bill tells us, “Vote somewhere else.”
But here in New Hampshire we live by a very different creed. In this state we say, “Live Free or Die.” And last Thursday, college students, constitutional scholars, county clerks, elected officials, and ordinary citizens from all over the state and running the full political spectrum showed up in force to voice their strong opposition to the legislation.
The bill raises both state and federal constitutional questions, violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965, flies in the face of legal precedent from the 1970s overruling similar measures in a New Hampshire federal district court, and would inevitably lead to a flurry of practical implementation issues down the road. But setting these myriad faults aside, what truly unites opponents of HB 176 is our belief that the proposed law is anathema to the core values of New Hampshire and the United States.
Voting is both a fundamental privilege and obligation of citizenship. State House Speaker William O’Brien recently claimed that college students vote, “too liberal,” “with their emotions,” and that they lack sufficient “life experience” to vote in the state.
The last time we checked, the Constitution affords all citizens who are at least 18 years of age the right to the ballot box, and the idea of the government choosing who can or cannot participate in the democratic process on the basis of arbitrary value judgments should terrify every single American that holds their vote dear.
College students volunteer in their towns and communities, pay local property and meals taxes, and are undoubtedly affected by the laws enacted within their state. HB 176 smacks of political cynicism and the students and citizens of New Hampshire will not stand for it.
This is why at Dartmouth, the College Democrats, College Republicans, College Libertarians, and Student Assembly have joined forces to stand in solidarity against this bill. The testimony delivered at last Thursday’s hearing is unequivocal proof that students care deeply about their local communities and the state at large.
The right to vote is an issue that is simply too important to be subjected to partisan politicking. We will continue to speak out in this battle. We will continue to be invested in our state and in our politics. And we will continue to tell the State House, as we did last Thursday, that in the United States, and in the state of New Hampshire, the government does not choose its voters.
The voters choose their government.