Voter Residency Requirement
Under Part I, Article 11 of the New Hampshire Constitution, every individual "domiciled" in the state of New Hampshire who is a United States citizen and aged 18 or older is qualified to vote in New Hampshire.
The federal government leaves setting election laws largely to the individual states. This has put policy makers at odds over the years on how to define what "domiciled" means and who is therefore eligible to vote. It is a significant issue in a relatively small state that has many college and university students, a significant number of whom come from out of state and don't necessarily intend to stay in New Hampshire after they graduate. College students are often perceived as voting more progressively on issues and candidates.
Registering to vote in NH
You may register up to 10 days prior to the election in person at the town or city clerk's office for the town or city where you live, or you can also register on election day at your polling place.
Each applicant should bring documents which can prove identity, citizenship, age, and where they live. A New Hampshire driver’s license, non-driver ID, other government issued photo identification that lists your name and the address you claim as your place of residence, or a vehicle registration, are documents you can use to show you live in New Hampshire. These will generally also be accepted as proof of age and identity.
Seventeen-year-olds who will turn 18 on or before the next election are also allowed to register to vote. Read more about New Hampshire's voting age.
Historically, New Hampshire’s laws for eligibility to vote did not match up with requirements for other aspects of establishing residency in the state, such as registering a car or getting a driver’s license. People who wished to make the Granite State their home for voting purposes could do so, but were only required to register their cars or change over licenses if they intended to stay in the state “for the indefinite future”.
This changed in 2018, when the Legislature passed a controversial bill removing that “indefinite future” requirement from the state’s general residency rules. The move meant that starting in July 2019, people who register to vote in the Granite State must also abide by other state residency requirements. That can include the obligation to register a car or get a New Hampshire driver’s license.
A bill passed in 2017, SB 3, also added stricter requirements for proving you live in New Hampshire for individuals registering within 30 days of an election or on election day. They must now provide proof that they intend to stay in the state. In July 2021, the New Hampshire Supreme Court struck down SB3 in its entirety, agreeing with a lower court that the law was unconstitutional.
Federal voting law
The National Voter Registration Act of 1993, also known as the “Motor Voter Law,” requires states to offer voter registration opportunities at motor vehicle agencies and voter registration opportunities by mail-in application. However, it makes no mention of rules regarding residency or eligibility. New Hampshire is one of a handful of states exempt from the federal law because it implemented election day registration at polling places.
Areas of Debate
Efforts to tighten New Hampshire’s voting laws are often inspired by concerns about voter fraud.
This issue gained particular prominence after the 2016 general election, when President Donald Trump mentioned New Hampshire as a state where he claimed “millions” of fraudulent ballots had been cast.
However, election officials, including former Attorney General Joseph Foster, have stated they found no evidence of widespread voter fraud in New Hampshire. Secretary of State William Gardner reported that of 755,000 ballots cast in the November 2016 election, 1,124 were from voters without ID or who were not recognized by a poll worker. As of February 2017, 600 of those votes had been confirmed, with 500 not yet accounted for.
A smaller-scale controversy erupted in 2012 following reports that four out-of-state campaign workers staying at the home of Democrat state Sen. Martha Fuller Clark used her address to register to vote in New Hampshire. An investigation by the New Hampshire attorney general determined that this did not constitute voter fraud, as the campaign workers qualified as legally domiciled in New Hampshire, and could therefore vote based on the state’s voter eligibility rules at the time. The incident was often cited by those advocating for a revision of the residency rules for voters under state law.
Same-day voter registration allows eligible residents to register on election day at the polls. Eliminating same-day voter registration would make New Hampshire subject to the federal Motor Voter Act, which requires that states give people an opportunity to register to vote when they are registering their cars or at offices that oversee public assistance programs.
In addition to New Hampshire, neighboring states Maine and Vermont offer same-day voter registration, but the rest of New England does not.
Several bills in recent years have attempted to institute a requirement that individuals have lived in New Hampshire for a minimum length of time—for example, 15 or 30 days—before they are eligible to vote here. Similar laws have been put into place in other states.
As noted above, the New Hampshire Supreme Court struck down a 2017 law that added new documentation requirements for voters registering within 30 days of an election. After that court decision, Republican legislators said they will work on a new bill to address the same issue.
“NH should impose strict residency requirements on registering to vote.”
- In requiring that citizens be residents of the state in order to vote here, New Hampshire’s voting laws are in line with those of virtually every other state in the union.
- Looser voter residency requirements mean that people who live in New Hampshire but have no intention of making this state their home can vote in our elections while avoiding the rules and obligations that other residents are required to meet. A strict residency requirement is a more fair and equal approach.
- A strict residency requirement doesn’t disenfranchise voters. It gives them a choice: to become true residents of New Hampshire and vote here, or retain their residency of another state and vote by absentee ballot there.
- The New Hampshire Supreme Court has ruled on the state’s strict residency requirement and deemed it constitutional. The court also held that the state does have a compelling interest in ensuring that “the same obligations of citizenship are imposed on all other residents of the State.”
The preceding points were made by Gov. Chris Sununu in an editorial in Foster’s Daily Democrat in July 2018.
“NH should not impose strict residency requirements on registering to vote.”
- The effect of New Hampshire’s strict residency requirement will be to impose significant extra costs—such as those of registering a car—on people who wish to vote here. This will disproportionately impact college students and will almost certainly result in a disproportionate reduction in their voter turnout rates.
- Arguments that a strict voter residency requirement is necessary to prevent voter fraud ignore that there is simply no credible evidence of widespread voter fraud in New Hampshire.
- College students and other individuals who are living in New Hampshire, though not necessarily with the intent to stay here forever, do still live in the Granite State, spending the majority of their nights in a given year here. They should therefore have the right to cast a vote in our elections without taking on the additional financial burdens of changing their motor vehicle license or registration.
- Other laws that effectively restricted the rights of people who live in New Hampshire the majority of the year from voting here have been successfully challenged in court. This could mean that, once a factual record of the impact of New Hampshire’s strict residency requirement is available, that law could open the Granite State up to an expensive lawsuit.
The preceding points were made by Sens. Jeff Woodburn, Donna Soucy, and Dan Feltes in a memorandum to the New Hampshire Supreme Court related to its review of HB 1264 (2018).