The New Hampshire House of Representatives recently voted to pass HB 1264, a bill that would change the eligibility standards for voting in New Hampshire. The bill is expected to pass the Senate, and at that point, it will be up to the governor to determine whether or not the legislation becomes law. Sununu’s record on voting rights for college students is mixed, and there is concern among Democrats and college students that he will sign the legislation. Sununu has remained opposed to HB 372, a similar bill that would have restricted college students’ access to voting.
The bill that most recently passed by the House of Representatives makes a four-word change to the voting requirements in New Hampshire. The four words are “for the indefinite future.” Without these words, Democratic legislators say that college students could have their right to vote where they go to school threatened. College students who choose to still vote in New Hampshire would then have about two months to become New Hampshire residents or face criminal charges.
Voting where one goes to school is a constitutional right. In Symm v. United States (1979), the United States Supreme Court affirmed a student’s right to register and vote in the town they go to school. However, state-by-state efforts to disenfranchise students have persisted.
Democratic legislators, including state senator Donna Soucy, an alum of Saint Anselm College, argue that the legislation is a direct affront to college students. However, their opposition is deeper than that. Senators Soucy and Jeff Woodburn argue that the legislation would make New Hampshire less appealing to younger residents, hurting the state’s economy.
New Hampshire College Democrats President Olivia Teixeira ’20 spoke passionately against HB 1264. In opposing the legislation, she tied the issue of voting rights with core tenets of Saint Anselm’s Benedictine values. “Especially here at Saint Anselm,” she said, “we are dedicated to serving our surrounding community and leaving it better than when we came, and having a part in electing local legislators for the area is no different.”
Saint Anselm students are eligible to vote in Goffstown municipal elections in addition to the state and federal races that get more attention. In the past municipal race in Goffstown, one Saint Anselm alum, Joe Alexander ’18, won an election to the Goffstown Budget Committee.
Teixeira, who also serves as the president of the Saint Anselm College chapter of the College Democrats, said she was impressed with how much students on campus have been involved with the issue. “Over the past few months, I have seen the true power of student voices speaking out against these bills in the State House and fighting for their right to vote in a place that in every other sense has been accepted as our home,” Teixeira said.
Saint Anselm students have been active voters in the area for years. In the 2016 election, various campus clubs organized rides to the polls for students – a service that both Democrats and Republicans took advantage of. However, Tim Madsen ’19, the president of the Saint Anselm College Republicans, declined to comment on the legislation.
Vice President of the Saint Anselm College Democrats Haley Bragdon-Clements ’21 stressed that the issue of voting rights is not, in her mind, a partisan issue. “When the right for students to vote comes under attack it is our job to come together in opposition of such bills. This should not be a partisan issue as all of us are at risk of losing our voice,” she explained. Bragdon-Clements went on, “I would love for the College Democrats to work with the College Republicans. This is a time where we can come together and fight for something that is absolutely essential to our democracy, our right to vote.”
Whether or not the campus Republicans join the campus Democrats in opposing HB 1264 and similar measures, it will ultimately be Governor Sununu’s decision if the bill passes the Senate as expected. Sununu has maintained a general opposition to disenfranchising students but has avoided commenting specifically on whether or not he will veto HB 1264 if it gets to his desk. Without a definitive statement from the governor, the fate of students’ access to voting in New Hampshire remains uncertain.
Cover image taken from Granite State Progress; in-text photo courtesy of Sarah King ’18.