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Republican, Democratic Students Team Up Against Attacks on Voting Rights in New Hampshire

[Editor’s note: This story is the first in a series of articles examining attempts to disenfranchise student voters nationwide.]

Yesterday a committee in New Hampshire’s legislature held a hearing to discuss legislation that would restrict the voting rights of young people—and both Republicans and Democrats are rallying in opposition.

This legislation, proposed by State Rep. Gregory M. Sorg (R-Grafton 3), aims to prohibit out-of-state college students and members of the armed forces from obtaining voting rights in the state. The text of the legislation reads:

No person who prior to matriculation at any institution of learning in this state, and no person employed in the service of the United States who prior to being stationed in this state, had been domiciled in another place shall lose or change that domicile by reason of his or her presence in this state, but shall be presumed to have departed from such other place for a temporary purpose with the intention of returning.

The committee is expected to issue its recommendation on the legislation next month.

New Hampshire House Speaker William O’Brien (R- Hillsborough 4) also stated his support, saying residency laws need to be tightened because students “are kids voting liberal, voting their feelings, with no life experience.”

Unfortunately for Sorg and O’Brien, these efforts have sparked widespread bi-partisan condemnation from the “kids.” The New Hampshire College Republicans and College Democrats are slamming efforts to pass the bill.

“This bill benefits Republican causes, which is why Republicans are proposing it,” says Richard Sunderland, a senior and president of the Dartmouth College Republicans in New Hampshire. “But the way I see the lines here, is we are students and first and foremost, as students, this is attacking our right to vote.”

Sayak Mukherjee, who heads the College Democrats at Dartmouth, echoed this sentiment in an interview with the student newspaper, saying that “The fact that the College Democrats, Republicans and Libertarians are united just goes to show that there is a lot of solidarity about this issue across campus.”

Unfortunately, this message may not be reaching the Republican state representatives in New Hampshire who will ultimately vote on this legislation. Republicans also possess a veto-proof majority in the legislature.

Sunderland says he believes that the bill is addressing a symptom, but not the fundamental problem that the Republican Party has with the 18- to 24-year-old demographic. He believes that the “correct solution is to try to bring younger students into the fold as Republicans, as opposed to this which seems like more of an attack [on students].”

As of publication, neither the bill’s sponsor nor the chair of the House Election Law Committee have responded to a request for comment on the bill. It will be interesting to see if national Republican leaders feel compelled to lend their support following the castigation by young Republicans.

New Hampshire, after all, is an important state when it comes to upcoming presidential elections. The state will host the first primary in the Republican race for president in just under a year. Student voters might remember which Republican candidates sided with them, or against them, when it came to their fundamental right to vote.

After all, as Sunderland put it, these are students who are not only voting, but are also “volunteering on political campaigns … doing phone banking for [candidates], doing sign waving, [and] putting up signs.” These are all activities that are certain to be important to candidates when they travel to New Hampshire to build voter support in preparation for their primary in 2012. 

Tobin is the deputy director for Campus Progress.

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