June 3, 2015

Contact Devon Chaffee, Executive Director, ACLU of New Hampshire 603-224-5591

NH House Approves New, Unconstitutional Voting Restrictions

This afternoon, on a party-line vote, the New Hampshire House of Representatives passed an amended version of Senate Bill 179 that places new restrictions on the right to vote in New Hampshire. The amended version of the bill, for example, requires a voter to be domiciled in New Hampshire for 30 days before voting in the state.
“This bill needlessly disenfranchises people who live in New Hampshire and are constitutionally-entitled to vote here,” said Devon Chaffee, the Executive Director for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire.  “No legitimate justification has been articulated for placing such significant burdens on the right to vote.”
Under SB 179, a high school teacher who moves from Kittery to Portsmouth in late August to take a new teaching position would be completely prevented from voting in a mid-term September primary election in Portsmouth where she now lives.  The U.S. Supreme Court has held that such durational requirements unjustifiably disenfranchise voters. (Dunn v. Blumstein, 405 U.S. 330 (1972).)  As the Court explained in Dunn, “it is impossible to view durational … requirements as necessary to achieve that state interest [of preventing voter fraud]” because, by definition, such a requirement bars from the franchise newly-arrived Granite staters who live here and are not fraudulent voters.
In many states, voters can register to vote when they get their driver’s license or through other readily available means. In such states, there is an administrative justification to have a cut-off date for registration to allow the state to get the voter rolls in order before Election Day. However, in New Hampshire voters can register to vote at the polls on the day of an election. Because there is no cut-off date for registration in New Hampshire, this means that there is no administrative justification for the 30 day durational requirement proposed in SB 179.  Significantly, the Secretary of State’s Office, when repeatedly asked by legislators, has been unable to present any administrative reason why this bill is necessary.
Only a handful of states that have same day registration also have a durational requirement like the one proposed in SB 179, and none of those have been challenged in court.  In Maine, which has same day registration, the state’s Supreme Court issued an advisory opinion rejecting a 30-day durational requirement because there was no administrative justification for the provision.  SB 179 is no different.
The House of Representative’s decision to pass this restrictive law comes just over two weeks after the New Hampshire Supreme Court struck down a controversial 2012 voter suppression law which added language to the state’s voter registration form that would have frozen out students and other eligible voters from the elections.
“The New Hampshire Supreme Court’s recent decision made clear that unjustified, burdensome restrictions on voting rights are unconstitutional.  It is unfortunate that the House has continued to try to make voting more difficult for eligible voters despite this decision,” added Chaffee. "Like the law we successfully challenged, SB 179 is impermissible under Article 11 of the U.S. Constitution."