Voter Residency Requirement

Citizens Count Editor

Under Part I, Article 11 of the New Hampshire Constitution, every individual domiciled — or resident — 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 determine just who is a resident and whether they are 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. College students are often perceived as voting more progressively on issues and candidates.

Learn more about student voting rights in New Hampshire

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, residency, citizenship and age. The law treats 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, as presumptive evidence of residency. 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.

A bill passed in 2017, SB 3, adds stricter requirements for proving residency, particularly for individuals registering within 30 days of an election or on election day, who must provide proof that they intend to stay in the state. Voters without that proof can still register, but are required to submit the evidence within a set period of time after the election or face investigation and fines. A court-ordered block on the implementation of SB 3 is in effect until a full trial on the law is completed. 

Learn more about how to register to vote in New Hampshire

History

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, such as the obligation to register a car or get a New Hampshire driver’s license.

Other bills submitted in recent years have attempted to require that individuals must have lived in the state for 15 or 30 days before registering to vote. So far, none of these have made it past the governor’s desk.

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 was one of a handful of states exempt from the federal law because it implemented election day registration at polling places.

Areas of Debate

Voter fraud?

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 registration

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.

Minimum stay

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.

PROS & CONS

"For" Position

“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.

"Against" Position

“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). 

LEGISLATIVE HISTORY

Killed in the Senate

Repeals the authority to share voter information or data with other states, e.g. through the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program.

Killed in the House

Requires the supervisors of the checklist to send a notice to a voter who has requested an absentee ballot at an address other than the one claimed by the voter as his or her domicile, requiring the voter to provide proof of his or her qualifications to vote.

Signed by Governor

Redefines "resident" and "inhabitant" to remove the phrase "for the indefinite future." This bill would potentially require all voters domiciled in New Hampshire to follow residency laws, such as the requirement to register any car in New Hampshire.

Killed in the House

Requires the ballot clerk to provide information on license requirements for residents to any voter who uses an out-of-state driver's license for identification.

Killed in the House

Requires the secretary of state to develop an online portal for voter registration.

Killed in the House

Adds a concealed carry license to the list of acceptable forms of proof of domicile for voting purposes, makes a concealed carry license valid for 3 years, and renders a resident's concealed carry license invalid 30 days after he or she relocates to a new city or town.

Signed by Governor

Changes the definition of domicile for voting purposes to make it more restrictive. This bill explicitly excludes anyone who comes to the state "for temporary purposes," such as volunteering or working on political campaigns. Out-of-state college students are still allowed to claim a domicile in New Hampshire. However, if someone moves to a new New Hampshire address within 30 days of voting, he or she must present proof of intent to stay in New Hampshire. This proof could include a lease, driver's license, a child's enrollment at a public school, etc. The voter has until 10 days after the election to provide this proof to the town clerk. If the voter does not present this proof, he or she may be investigated, including a home visit by election officials.

Killed in the House

Modifies various provisions relating to who is eligible to vote, for example requiring a voter to confirm they are a resident of New Hampshire. This bill also eliminates the separate election day voter registration form.

Killed in the House

Makes various changes to voter registration laws. First, this bill changes the definition of domicile to be "the person's permanent legal residence." The definition of domicile also requires someone to live in a district at least thirty days before voting in that district. Voters would have the new option of registering to vote at the DMV. This bill also eliminates election day voter registration, and requires voters to register at least thirty days before an election. This bill also requires voters be a registered member of a party before the date of a primary election in order to vote in the primary. Lastly, the bill requires New Hampshire colleges to issue student IDs that show if a student is in-state or out-of-state.

Killed in the Senate

Changes the definition of domicile for voting purposes to make it more restrictive. For example, this bill explicitly excludes anyone who comes to the state "for a temporary purpose," such as volunteering or working on political campaigns. This bill also requires a voter to live in the state at least thirteen days before voting.

Killed in the House

Modifies the affidavit a voter signs to swear that he or she is domiciled in New Hampshire. For example, this bill makes it mandatory for the voter to provide a telephone number. This bill also only allows a voter to sign the affidavit when registering to vote on the day of an election; if registering to vote on another day, the voter must provide proof of domicile beyond the affidavit, such as a driver's license.

Signed by Governor

Requires that information on the use of out-of-state drivers' licenses and nondrivers' identification cards be recorded in the statewide centralized voter registration database.

Killed in the House

Repeals the authority of election officials to vouch for the identity of voters or to accept any photo identification they determine to be legitimate.

Killed in the House

Requires voters without photo ID to prove their identity to the supervisors of the checklist within ten days.

Killed in the House

Allows voters to sign an affidavit - rather than showing ID - only if registering on election day. This bill also eliminates separate voter registration forms for persons registering at the polling place.

Killed in the House

Includes additional conduct under wrongful voting prohibitions. Specifically, this bill makes it a misdemeanor to provide false proof of age, citizenship or domicile, or to falsely state that another person is domiciled at one' s address.

Killed in the House

Removes a New Hampshire vehicle registration from the list of documents that prove a person's domicile when registering to vote.

Killed in the House

States that "A person shall be deemed to have abandoned his or her domicile, for the purposes of voting or running for or holding elective office, if he or she claims residency in another state, files taxes as a resident of another state, claims a homestead exemption in another state, or sells and moves out of the residence where he or she was domiciled."

Died in Conference Committee

Changes the legal definition of residency to remove the phrase "for the indefinite future." The Senate amended the bill to make the definitions of "residency" and "domicile" equivalent. This bill would then require a voter to be a resident of New Hampshire, not just domiciled in New Hampshire.

Killed in the Senate

Requires a voter to be domiciled in New Hampshire for at least ten days before voting, and narrows the definition of domicile (for example to exclude individuals who move to New Hampshire to work on a political campaign).

Tabled in the Senate

Modifies the general statutory definition of "resident or inhabitant" to replace "for the indefinite future" with "to the exclusion of all others."

Tabled in the House

Constitutional amendment that only allows residents to vote in elections. (At the time of this bill's submission, New Hampshire only needs to be a voter's domicile, which allows college students to vote without establishing residency).

Signed by Governor

Makes some changes to the voter registration form, and involves local supervisors of the checklist in the process for verifying voters without ID.

Tabled in the House

States that a declaration of domicile for voting purposes establishes that address as the residence for car registration purposes.

Interim Study

Removes language from the voter registration form that suggests a voter who claims domicile must also have a New Hampshire driver's license. A voter must claim domicile, but not residency, to vote. Residency requires a New Hampshire driver's license, etc. The voter registration form currently reads, "In declaring New Hampshire as my domicile, I am subject to the laws of the state of New Hampshire which apply to all residents, including laws requiring a driver to register a motor vehicle and apply for a New Hampshire's driver's license within 60 days of becoming a resident." Some Democrats argue this wording is intended to discourage out-of-state college students from voting in New Hampshire.

Killed in the House

Establishes a deed or lease as presumptive evidence of domicile for persons registering to vote.

Killed in the House

Eliminates election day voter registration and enacts provisions of the National Voter Registration Act.

Vetoed by Governor

Requires that a voter has lived in the state and county for at least 30 days.

Killed in the Senate

Tightens the definition of domicile for the purpose of voting.  In particular, the final version of this bill requires a voter to live in New Hampshire at least 10 days before voting.

Should NH impose strict residency requirements on registering to vote?

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AGAINST
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Issue Status

SB 3, a controversial law passed in 2017 that added stricter requirements for proving domicile for voting purposes was blocked by a superior court judge, effective starting November 7. 

Rep. Timothy Horrigan has requested two bills related to the definition of “residency” for the purpose of voting. The details of the bills are not yet public, but Rep. Horrigan is a vocal opponent of a new law establishing residency requirements for voters.

Rep. Katherine Rogers has proposed a bill for 2019 allowing voters to vote by absentee ballot. The details are not yet public, but in 2015 Rogers proposed a failed constitutional amendment that would have authorized all voters to choose to vote by absentee ballot. 

See our predictions for the fate of the debate over voter residency rules

Rep. Linda Tanner has proposed a bill that would allow the use of assisted living center photo ID cards for voter identification. The details are not yet public, but the bill may be similar to one she proposed in 2017.

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