Sununu Says He Opposes Voting Proposal

  • Gov. Chris Sununu delivers remarks during the Veterans Day ceremony at the New Hampshire State Veterans Cemetery in Boscawen on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

Valley News Staff Writer
Monday, December 11, 2017

West Lebanon — Voting rights advocates are highlighting a new video which appears to show Republican Gov. Chris Sununu voicing his opposition to a bill opponents say will discourage some New Hampshire college students from voting.

Opponents of the bill, HB 372, say it’s an unfair attempt to target students, imposing the stricter requirements of residency in order to vote. If it’s passed, they say, students who attend college in New Hampshire but are from out of state would be required to obtain a driver’s license and register their vehicles here.

Voters have traditionally been required to be domiciled in New Hampshire, meaning they physically occupy a space in the Granite State “more than any other place.” Under that designation, voters are allowed to use non-resident identification at the polls.

However, Republicans backing the bill say it would clarify state election laws, and ensure only those who live in New Hampshire would be on the voter rolls. Secretary of State Bill Gardner has also supported the legislation, which passed the House this spring.

The video, recorded on Friday at an event in Manchester, shows Sununu speaking to a community organizer with the New Hampshire Youth Movement, a progressive advocacy organization.

As the activist begins to ask Sununu about the bill, the governor interjects, saying “No. I hate it.”

“I know what you’re talking about,” Sununu says in the video. “I’m not a fan. I’m hoping that the Legislature kills it.”

The activist, Ben Kremer, then asks whether Sununu would veto the bill or others like it.

“I will never support anything that suppresses the student vote. End of story,” the governor replies, with the video cutting out as the two shake hands.

Calls and emails left for Sununu’s press office were not returned on Monday.

Over the weekend, a news release from America Votes, a liberal advocacy group with a chapter based in Concord. characterized the interaction as a win for those hoping to stop the bill.

“We are pleased that Governor Sununu has a new found commitment to ensuring that every eligible voter can vote,” America Votes New Hampshire state director Liz Wester said in the release. “We should be focusing on ways to ensure every eligible voter participates in our elections instead of continuing the trend of politicians trying to pick their votes.”

The New Hampshire American Civil Liberties Union also applauded the video. The organization has charged the bill would amount to a poll tax.

“We were very pleased with the governor’s statements made last week,” ACLU of New Hampshire legal director Gilles Bissonnette said on Monday. “We frankly think it’s abundantly clear that, if HB 372 were enacted, this would have a chilling effect on those who live in New Hampshire.”

Although the video has some advocates cheering Sununu’s position, legislators on both sides of the aisle were more muted in their responses.

“I don’t take much stock in the video,” state Sen. Regina Birdsell, R-Hampstead, said on Monday.

Birdsell, who serves as chairwoman of the Election Law and Internal Affairs Committee, said she has a meeting scheduled with Sununu on Wednesday and hopes to answer any concerns he might have at that time.

“I’m not really worried about those people that have the video,” she said. “I’m more interested in giving the governor the scoop on what the bill actually does.”

State Sen. Bob Giuda, R-Warren, also said he thinks Sununu is unlikely to stand in the bill’s way. The legislation, he said, would protect local residents from being outvoted by college students.

“The right to vote is not guaranteed to everyone. It’s guaranteed to the people who are legally qualified to vote,” said Giuda, whose district includes the Haverhill area.

The bill will better define who can vote in the Granite State, he said, and those left out can file absentee ballots in their home states.

Democrats were also unsure on Monday that Sununu would take steps to veto the bill.

“A year ago, he wasn’t saying the same thing. He was saying the opposite,” said state Sen. Martha Hennessey, D-Hanover, whose district ranges from Lyme to Charlestown. “I am very cautiously optimistic because I do think the bill is terrible and I don’t think it should go through.”

Senate Minority Leader Jeff Woodburn, D-Whitefield, also said he won’t fully believe Sununu’s stance until he sees action.

“He has a knack for speaking off the cuff,” said Woodburn, adding the governor sometimes tailors his message to specific audiences.

“This is encouraging and we just hope that he will (veto the bill),” he said.

The legislation was passed in a party-line vote, 3-2, by the Senate Election Law and Internal Affairs Committee in November, and could go before the full Senate in January.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.


Ben Kremer is a community organizer with the New Hampshire Youth Movement, a progressive advocacy organization. An earlier version of this story imprecisely identified who Kremer works for.