CONCORD, NH – In a 3-2 ruling, the New Hampshire Supreme Court declared constitutional—on an advisory, non-binding basis only—New Hampshire’s latest legislative effort to suppress the right to vote, HB 1264. The ACLU-NH and the Fair Elections Center filed a joint brief before the New Hampshire Supreme Court challenging HB 1264’s constitutionality. Attorneys for the ACLU-NH and The Center that filed this brief are Gilles Bissonnette, the ACLU-NH Legal Director, and William Christie and S. Amy Spencer of the law firm Shaheen & Gordon, P.A.
The ACLU-NH and the Center have challenged this bill since its inception because it would make it more difficult for some individuals—particularly college students—to vote by imposing onerous motor vehicle fees as a condition of registering to vote. Moreover, the legislative history of HB 1264 makes clear that such voter suppression is the legislative intent of the bill.
Gilles Bissonnette, the ACLU-NH’s Legal Director, had this reaction to today’s decision: “Today, a majority of the Court inappropriately weighed in on the constitutionality of HB 1264 without a fully developed record contrary to its prior decisions. As the dissent correctly noted, to opine on such a question without a developed record “undermines our credibility.” The Court’s majority declared HB1264 constitutional only on an advisory, non-binding basis. It did so despite the fact that this bill is transparently designed to make voting more difficult for certain citizens. The Court’s majority ignored ample evidence that this bill is specifically targeted at deterring college students—who are constitutionally entitled to vote in New Hampshire—from exercising their right to vote. As the dissent correctly explained, a State’s desire to only allow persons who have a sufficient community interest to vote often masks a true intent to “fence out from the franchise a sector of the population because of the way they may vote.” This is precisely what the proponents of HB 1264 are attempting to do. Simply put, the Court’s advisory decision is wrong, a setback for voting rights, and will only embolden future efforts to make voting more difficult in New Hampshire. However, this decision is advisory only. It is not binding precedent and does not give a green light to voter suppression in New Hampshire. This advisory decision does not prevent this bill, if it is signed into law, from being successfully challenged in court with the benefit of a full record developed in litigation.”
Statement by Devon Chaffee, ACLU-NH Executive Director: “The Court’s advisory decision does not change the fact that HB 1264 is bad policy. The Governor correctly distanced himself from it early on and should veto the bill now. A veto would be consistent with his prior statements that he “hates” the bill and hopes “that the legislature kills it.” He was right to oppose it before and should continue to oppose it. It defies democracy when political officials are allowed to choose their voters. The Court’s majority failed today. This means that the public is needed now more than ever. We must make it crystal clear to our elected representatives that, if they enact restrictive voting laws, they weaken our democracy by undermining one of this country’s most basic democratic principles.”
Michelle Kanter Cohen, an attorney at the Fair Elections Center, also states: “Regardless of the Court’s majority decision, Governor Sununu should veto this cynical attempt to stop people who live and work in New Hampshire, especially students, from voting in the state. Governor Sununu can make the right call and stop this bill in its tracks, and ensure that citizens who live in New Hampshire still have a voice in their communities.”