ACLU, two Dartmouth students file lawsuit over N.H. voting law

Concord Monitor
Published: 2/13/2019 10:36:04 AM
Modified: 2/13/2019 9:55:57 PM

CONCORD — Five months before a controversial New Hampshire voting bill takes effect, the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a federal lawsuit to shut it down.

In the lawsuit filed on Wednesday, the organization asked the court to stop the bill from taking effect in July, arguing that its provisions will impede on the right of college students to vote.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Concord, targets House Bill 1264, a voting residency bill signed into law in July. That bill amends the definition of resident in New Hampshire, making it so those who cast ballots in elections effectively are declaring that they intend to live in New Hampshire “for the indefinite future.”

The new law means that college students who vote will be subject to residency requirements, which include motor vehicle registrations and driver’s license requirements. The ACLU argues that those requirements — which currently don’t exist — would scare out-of-state college students away from casting a vote.

“Our laws should ensure that it’s easy for eligible people to vote, not put up red tape and require hundreds of dollars in fees,” Henry Klementowicz, a staff attorney in the ACLU’s New Hampshire office, said in a statement.

But Gov. Chris Sununu, who signed the bill after initially harboring doubts about it, slammed the lawsuit, calling it “nothing more than a desperate attempt to dredge up arguments” that already had been voiced. In July, the state Supreme Court issued an advisory opinion finding the bill constitutional under state law; Sununu said that ruling, though nonbinding, had settled the debate.

“The Supreme Court addressed each of the legal arguments made by opponents of House Bill 1264 and found that the law ensures that every voter is treated the same,” Sununu said in a statement. “I fully expect our federal court to reach the same conclusion.”

At the center of the lawsuit are two Dartmouth College sophomores, Maggie Flaherty and Caroline Casey, both of whom argue their rights will be impeded when the law comes into effect.

Casey, of Louisiana, registered to vote for the 2018 primary and general election because she “is not connected with Louisiana politics anymore,” according to the lawsuit. But she has retained her Louisiana driver’s license and is expecting to move out of the state as her job search takes her elsewhere, the complaint adds.

Flaherty, meanwhile, is from Northern California and also has retained her driver’s license. She voted in 2018 but also is likely to leave the state upon graduation.

Neither plaintiff has a car in New Hampshire, according to the lawsuit. But in a statement on Wednesday, Flaherty argued the state driving laws — which mandate that drivers obtain New Hampshire licenses within 60 days of being a resident in the state — pose a general burden.

For those who drive, the law would result in hundreds of dollars of license and registration fees, Flaherty said.

“Make no mistake — this is meant to deter young people from participating in our elections, and students are an important voting bloc here,” Flaherty said.

In filing its lawsuit in federal court, the ACLU is bypassing the traditional avenue for challenging New Hampshire laws under the state constitution and arguing the new law violates the U.S. Constitution. The organization says the new law violates the 26th amendment, which established the right to vote for 18-year-olds, but which the ACLU argues also was intended to expand voting rights.

The complaint argues the law also contravenes the 24th amendment, which prohibits poll taxes — mandatory fees on those who vote — and the 14th and first amendments, which cover individual rights and speech, respectively.

Supporters of the bill, including House Republican leadership, swiped back at the lawsuit, pointing out that other states also have residency requirements to vote and arguing that HB 1264 merely brought the law in line with other states.

Republican House Minority Leader Rep. Dick Hinch, of Merrimack, said the law was merely intended to equalize voters so everyone who votes is a resident.

“Choosing New Hampshire as your domicile for voting should subject each and every one of us to the same obligation of state citizenship,” Hinch said. “This bill is about ensuring our elections remain fair for all who cast a vote in our state.”

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