On Wednesday, January 3 the New Hampshire Senate passed a bill that revises the definitions of residence and domicile so that a person living in New Hampshire must be a resident in order to vote.
Current law on residency and domicile
Under current state law, there is a difference between “residency” and “domicile.” A person only needs to be domiciled in New Hampshire to vote.
According to the Secretary of State’s website, “An inhabitant's domicile for voting purposes is that one place where a person, more than any other place, has established a physical presence and manifests an intent to maintain a single continuous presence for domestic, social, and civil purposes relevant to participating in democratic self-government.”
A resident, on the other hand, establishes a long-term physical presence in New Hampshire “to the exclusion of all [other places].” There are additional legal requirements for residents. For example, residents must register their cars in New Hampshire.
An out-of-state college student can claim domicile in New Hampshire for voting purposes, but still claim residency in their home state, where they register any cars, pay taxes, etc.
Changes in HB 372
HB 372, which passed the Senate on Wednesday, is a bill to get rid of the difference between “residency” and “domicile” for voting purposes.
According to the bill’s purpose statement:
“The general court has determined that all similarly situated people should be treated equally, sharing equally in rights and responsibilities. Accordingly, the terms residence, domicile, and inhabitant shall have the same meaning for all purposes in statute, unless the law explicitly establishes a different meaning for a specific limited purpose. A person must be a resident of New Hampshire to vote or hold office in New Hampshire.”
Supporters of HB 372
Supporters of HB 372 argue that the difference between residency and domicile is confusing to voters. In addition to aligning the two terms, HB 372 removes a phrase from the law that the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional in 1972.
“Free and open elections are essential to supporting democracy and in a state where elections are separated by very few votes, each one is critically important. By clarifying the definitions of residency and domicile we are making our elections more accessible by offering individuals’ greater ease in understanding the requirements surrounding New Hampshire elections as well as aligning our state with the voting laws in our neighboring New England states.”
Opponents of HB 372
Opponents of HB 372 – including Gov. Chris Sununu – argue the bill is intended to suppress the vote of college students.
According to some interpretations, any out-of-state student who votes in a New Hampshire election would have to follow the laws relating to residency – including the requirement to register any car in New Hampshire, which costs hundreds of dollars.
Opponents also point out that New Hampshire already tightened voting laws with the 2017 bill SB 3, which specifically forbids anyone in New Hampshire for short-term purposes from voting. That law is being challenged in court, and HB 372 would almost certainly face a similar challenge.
The House must approve the Senate version of HB 372 before it heads to Gov. Sununu.
Do you support HB 372? Let us know in the comments below.