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Out-Of-State College Students Sue New Hampshire Over Voter Residency Requirements

Man open ballot he got in the mail
By Christopher Coble, Esq. on August 01, 2019

Do you need a driver's license to vote? Not ordinarily, although some states may require ID at the polls and a valid license may fill that requirement. But obtaining a license may be a necessary second step to voter registration in New Hampshire under the state's new residency requirements.

Specifically, the new law broadens the definition of "resident" as required to register to vote, meaning anyone who registers to vote in New Hampshire is declaring residency in the state. That registration could subsequently trigger motor vehicle registration laws, according to the Concord Monitor, including the state's requirement that any new residents to obtain a New Hampshire license within 60 days. Two Dartmouth students are suing the state over the requirement, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, and had a good news/bad news week in court.

Standing and Delivering

The good news is that their lawsuit wasn't completely dismissed. New Hampshire argued that the law doesn't infringe on anyone's right to vote and has no effect on voter eligibility, registration, or the casting of ballots. In any case, the state contended, any additional burden on the right to vote would be minimal and only apply to about 5,000 people.

U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Laplante, however, said the burden should be measured by its effect on each individual, and seemed open to the ACLU's argument that the driver's license requirement could have a chilling effect on new voters.

The bad news? While Laplante declined to dismiss the suit entirely, he was skeptical of the students' claims. "I'm not saying this is a particularly strong challenge," Laplante declared. "But the plaintiffs have standing." And the judge did not seem convinced that the $50 driver's license fee amounted to a significant burden.

Home and Away

Each state has its own voter registration and ID requirements, and for students attending college out-of-state, they can be pretty tricky. U.S. citizens who are at least 18 are allowed to vote in the state where they live. You could use your home address and file an absentee ballot while at school. Or you could use your college address and go to the polls there.

In either case, you should research (and follow) each state's residency requirements for voting. You'll also want to be aware of each state's deadlines to register, and be careful not to vote in multiple states.

And if you're having trouble registering to vote, or believe a state's requirements are too burdensome, contact an experienced civil rights attorney for help.

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