In 2011, soon after the Red Tide swamped the New Hampshire legislature, then-Speaker of the House Bill O’Brien spoke at a Tea Party event about his intention to change the state’s voting laws, especially those around student voting.
Same day registration needed to go, he said, because it led to “the kids coming out of the schools and basically doing what I did when I was a kid, which is voting as a liberal.
That’s what kids do?—?they don’t have life experience, and they just vote their feelings.”
We don’t even have to read between the lines here, it’s so obvious. Students shouldn’t be allowed to vote because they vote for Democrats.
Ever since then, the House’s Election Law Committee has heard bill after bill seeking to restrict or rescind the constitutional right of those attending school in New Hampshire from voting here. Most of these have fiddled around with the definitions of ‘residency’ and ‘domicile’—often confused terms used when determining where a citizen is eligible to vote.
Domicile is the standard in New Hampshire, and the Secretary of State’s office gives this definition: “An inhabitant’s domicile for voting purposes is that one place where a person, more than any other place, has established a physical presence and manifests an intent to maintain a single continuous presence for domestic, social, and civil purposes relevant to participating in democratic self-government.”
I think of it this way: A person can have residences in more than one place—think of your neighbor with a second house on the lake or down in Florida—but they must choose only one place for voting. That place is their domicile. For students, that domicile might be their dorm room. Perfectly legal.
This year’s bug-a-boo bill, SB 3, was a variant. Instead of redefining domicile, it made the process of proving it more difficult—even to the point of potentially having government ‘agents’ knocking on your door to prove you are there.
The bill as it left the House was a little less onerous for students than what came to us from the Senate, but it still got a tremendous amount of pushback. And it wasn’t only students who were protesting its passage. Many municipal election officials took a stand against it too—they saw it as unneeded, unwieldy, and a devil to enforce.
But SB 3 is on its way to the Governor for his signature, and will soon be the law of the land. Will some folks be disenfranchised by this change in law? No doubt, but full speed ahead and damn the unintended consequences.
I am privileged to serve as the co-chair of the Legislative Youth Advisory Council (LYAC), a committee established by law and made up of young people whose job it is to advise the state government on issues important to the youth of the state. These are active, engaged, intelligent, informed students, and they take their responsibility seriously. They have advised the legislature on many issues; unfortunately, very seldom is their advice heeded.
I can understand my Republican colleagues’ concern that our young people seem drawn to the Democratic Party rather than their own. But really, can you blame the kids?
Instead of taking steps to make their party more appealing to them, the GOP here in New Hampshire seems to be actively working toward pushing them away.
How so? Consider these:
LYAC members, over the last several years, have expressed their deep concern about the high cost of higher education in the state, and the heavy burden of student debt NH’s students bear—the highest in the nation. It is less expensive for them to attend an out-of-state university than to pay in-state tuition at UNH. No wonder our friends are leaving the state, they say. As one young man so eloquently stated, “It feels like my state doesn’t care about me.”
Yet time after time, there is a budget battle over higher education funding. This year is no exception. UNH is level funded once again, and Senate President Morse seemed actually proud when he told our group only 7% of the university’s funding comes from the state.
Rep. Kurk was blunt when he told them, “The budget is a statement of our priorities, and unfortunately higher education is not a priority for New Hampshire.” Young people, and their families, might be concerned, but don’t look to Republican leadership for help.
LGBTQ rights have been high on the members’ list for several years now. They unanimously voted to support HB 478, which added gender identity to the existing non-discrimination laws. Too bad. That bill was tabled in the House—before we even had a chance to debate it.
Climate change, renewable energy, and environmental issues are top concerns for our young people too. After all, it is their future which will be so greatly affected. But our Republican legislators don’t seem to care. Judging by the emails they send, climate change is fiction.
They actually broke out in loud applause when it was mentioned the President had withdrawn from the Paris Climate Accord. Governor Sununu doesn’t seem too concerned either. Strange, given his family runs a ski resort.
Our youth would like to get big money out of politics, raise the minimum wage, and get a commuter rail system going too. But bills introduced to achieve these goals are routinely killed by the Republican controlled legislature.
Is it any wonder then that young people might be turned off by the GOP? Perhaps if my colleagues from across the aisle took the time to listen, really listen, to young people’s concerns, and took steps toward solving the problems they see, those young folks might start leaning Republican again. And there would be no need for all these vote-suppressing bills!
(Here’s the link to the video of Speaker O’Brien giving his Tea Party speech.) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B8tqpBzLNzE&feature=player_embedded
Marjorie Porter is serving her fourth term in the NH House, representing the citizens of Antrim, Hillsborough, and Windsor. She currently sits on the election Law Committee. She has two grown children of whom she is extremely proud. A retired teacher, Marjorie lives in Hillsborough with her husband and three cats.