CITIZEN VOICES® Car registration exception for students and other voters?
Feb 06, 2019
In 2018 New Hampshire passed a law that requires all voters to be legal residents of the state. That means voters must register any cars in New Hampshire and get New Hampshire drivers’ licenses.
Voter residency requirement
Prior to 2018, New Hampshire had a special definition of “domicile” that allowed someone to vote in New Hampshire without following all the other residency laws. Generally speaking, so long as someone lived in New Hampshire, they could vote in New Hampshire, but claim residency elsewhere for motor vehicles and tax purposes.
HB 1264, passed in 2018, ended that special definition of domicile. Now, if someone votes in New Hampshire, they must follow all residency laws. In particular, they must register any cars in New Hampshire and get a New Hampshire driver’s license within 60 days of voting.
In 2019 the Legislature is considering a bill to restore that special definition of "domicile."
Sen. Melanie Levesque has a different proposal: simply add an exception to motor vehicle laws for residents who don’t plan on staying in New Hampshire indefinitely.
An exception for car registration, licensing
SB 67, Levesque’s bill, states that any resident who expects to the leave the state in the future, “including military personnel, a student of any institution of learning, or a person employed for a fixed term,” is exempt from the residency requirements in New Hampshire’s motor vehicle laws.
In practice, this means out-of-state college students could register to vote in the same town as their dorm rooms, without having to also register their cars in-state.
Vermont has a similar exception to motor vehicle laws.
Arguments for, against an exception
Supporters of Levesque’s bill argue that car registration is not cheap and requiring voters to register cars amounts to a poll tax. They note that there are many reasons why college students and other temporary residents may wish to keep a car registered out-of-state, even while New Hampshire is their home. For example, a college student might be borrowing a car from an out-of-state parent.
Opponents of Levesque’s bill argue that college students and other people in New Hampshire temporarily should not have special privileges. If they want to vote, they should pay the same fees as everyone else.
Opponents also note that college students and other temporary residents can still vote by absentee ballot from their home state.