• Maikeytah Johnson of New Jersey and Timmy Panella of Keene stand in front of the NextGen booth, where they spoke to students and visitors during a job fair at Franklin Pierce University last week. Staff photo by Ashley Saari

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Monday, October 29, 2018 4:56PM

In the midst of legal wrangling over a new state law that makes it harder for out of state college students to vote, members of Franklin Pierce University’s Chapter of NextGen NH said students should be encouraged to vote.

“I think it’s imperative for college students to be able to vote,” Jacarra Stephens, a freshman at university, said Thursday.

Last week, Superior Court Judge Kenneth Brown issued an injunction on a stricter voting registration process passed in 2017, known as Senate Bill 3. The law includes stricter requirements for proving voter’s domicile when registering to vote. However, on Friday, the New Hampshire Supreme Court overturned Brown’s decision, at least until the end of the Nov. 6 primaries. 

Prior to SB3, voters could fill out an affidavit swearing they were domiciled in the state if they didn’t have proof of their address.

The new law required voters to provide documentation proving they’re domiciled in the town or ward where they vote if they’re registering more than 30 days in advance. Those registering less than 30 days before elections, or on election day can still vote without that documentation, if they sign an affidavit swearing that they are domiciled in the state, but the affidavit form was expanded.

Brown found in favor of those who objected to the changes on the grounds that the new forms were too confusing and took too long to fill out, discouraging voters.

The court ruled that there was evidence that the forms were confusing and intimidating and that filling them out was likely to increase wait times and lines at polling places. The court found the new law disproportionately would have impacted young voters between the ages of 18 and 24, transient or homeless individuals, those of a low socioeconomic status and undeclared and Democrat voters, all of whom have a higher rate of same-day registration.

The judge found that one of the primary purposes of the bill was to prevent voter fraud, but did not find sufficient proof that voter fraud was a widespread enough issue to justify the new rules, and that the new rules did not necessarily provide any further protection than the old process had.

“The state presented no evidence that the new domicile affidavit has had any impact on the public’s perception of the election process,” Brown wrote in a decision issued on Oct. 22. “Given the extraordinarily low rate of documented voter fraud in this state, it is far more likely that more legitimate voters will be dissuaded from voting than illegitimate voters will be prevented.”

The state appealed Brown’s decision to the New Hampshire Supreme Court, arguing that with so little time before the election, polling places would not have sufficient time to change their procedures. The Supreme court did not express any opinion for or against the merits of the opposition to the law, but agreed in a two-page decision that the timing “creates both a substantial risk of confusion and disruption of the orderly conduct of the election, and the prospect that similarly situated voters may be subjected to differing voter registration and voting procedures in the same election cycle.”

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Brown’s injunction on SB3 will be stayed and not take effect until after the conclusion of the Nov. 6 election.

Maikeytah Johnson, a senior at Franklin Pierce University, said Thursday she has voted in Rindge elections since she was a freshman, despite being a resident of New Jersey. She favors voting where she’s domiciled, she said, because she spends most of her year in New Hampshire, and those are the laws she lives under most of the time.

“Since I go to school here, these things affect me,” she said.

Stephens said she registered to vote in Rindge during this year’s primaries.

“I filled out the paperwork,” she said. “It was a headache, but it was worth it.”

Stephens said the cost of college in New Hampshire is one of her main concerns. Another is the minimum wage in the state, which impacts working college students. These are issues that impact her day-to-day life as someone domiciled in the state, and she wants a say in them, she said.

Johnson and Stephens are members of NextGen New Hampshire, a political action group. She hosts tables at Franklin Pierce University encouraging students to vote and educating them on how to register. Many students, she said, already are confused about their right to vote where they’re domiciled.

“One of the main excuses I hear about why they’re not voting is ‘I don’t live in New Hampshire, so I can’t vote,’” Johnson said.

NextGen New Hampshire will have door-knocking campaigns and tables at local colleges this year, as well as providing ride-shares to college students Nov. 6 during voting. Franklin Pierce University provides a shuttle for students to the Rindge polls.


Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.