N.H. Gov.-Elect Sununu May Scrap Same-Day Voter Registration

  • Megan Zelones, of Hanover, left, who registered to vote on the day of the presidential election, waits for her husband, not pictured, to receive his ballot as Kevin Cotter, right, looks over the ballot with his son Henry, 10, middle, and daughter Ashley, 11, left, at Hanover High School in Hanover, N.H., Tuesday, November 8, 2016. New Hampshire's Governor Elect Chris Sununu is seeking to end same-day voter registration in the state. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Ballot Clerk Maris Noble provides a ballot to a voter who registered on election day in Hanover, N.H. Tuesday, November 8, 2016. New Hampshire Governor Elect Christ Sununu is seeking to end same day voter registration. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — James M. Patterson

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/18/2016 10:50:08 PM
Modified: 11/21/2016 3:55:35 PM

Hanover — Republican Gov.-elect Chris Sununu said on Friday he favors scrapping New Hampshire’s same-day voter registration law, drawing protests from Democrats and officials in the Hanover area, where many Dartmouth College students register at the polls.

“Most states don’t have it. There’s a reason. It can cause problems,” Sununu told New Hampshire Public Radio’s Morning Edition.

“We just need our laws tighter. It’s not about fraud and a rigged system, that nonsense. It’s really just about making sure that our rules are clear, that they’re unambiguous, and that people can believe that as a full-time resident of the state of New Hampshire, your vote isn’t being watered down by someone who’s ‘drive-thru voting,’ ‘drive-by voting.’ We just need to modernize the system,” Sununu told NHPR.

His call drew criticism from state Sen.-elect Martha Hennessey, a Hanover Democrat who just won the Senate District 5 seat that stretches from Lyme to Charlestown.

Hennessey said ending same-day registration would discourage new residents who otherwise don’t have the time to return to their previous place of residence to vote.

“I feel any effort to change same-day registration is a voter-suppression strategy, in order to influence the outcome of an election,” Hennessey said via email. “For that reason, I am 100 percent opposed to ending same-day voter registration. We should be doing everything in our power to encourage every citizen to vote. This effort by Sununu is clearly aimed to limit (and not encourage) voting.”

Same-day registration is a major issue in several college towns in New Hampshire, which this year voted heavily for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Democratic Senate candidate Maggie Hassan.

In Hanover, 1,235 people, many of them students, registered to vote on Nov. 8, compared with 823 Election Day registrants in 2014, a nonpresidential year when turnout is lighter.

Clinton won 6,561 votes in the heavily Democratic town, defeating Republican Donald Trump, who had just 926 votes in Hanover. Clinton also won Plymouth, home to Plymouth State University, 56 percent to 37 percent, beating Trump there by about 1,700 votes.

Statewide, she defeated Trump by just 2,736 votes, out of more than 700,000 cast.

Hassan also enjoyed similarly large margins in college towns, including Durham, home to the University of New Hampshire, in defeating U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., by a little more than 1,000 votes statewide.

Hanover Town Manager Julia Griffin said she believes Republicans don’t like the same-day registration measure because they don’t like how students tend to vote.

“This should never be about chasing away people because you don’t like the way they vote. I am in favor of maximizing voter access by breaking down barriers and making it easy to vote,” Griffin said via email. “Same-day registration is one of those elements, and I think Hanover had the process down to a science.”

Executive Councilor Christopher Pappas, a Manchester Democrat, also indicated he was opposed to changes to same-day registration, tweeting on Friday, “NH leads the nation in turnout. Attempts to end same-day reg and put up barriers to voting run contrary to our proud tradition.”

Hanover Town Clerk Betsy McClain noted that under federal law members of the military and citizens temporarily overseas can register to vote via email and receive their ballots that way, but there is no current provision in New Hampshire for other voters to register online.

“The voter registration process in New Hampshire is designed to occur in person, and many of our citizens find it difficult to present themselves to Town Hall during normal work hours,” she said. “To change the law without opening up access to register to vote in some other easier way is wrong.”

New Hampshire and 12 other states allow voters to register to vote on an election day, and a handful of others, including Vermont, will implement a similar provision in the next couple of years, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The current deadline to register in Vermont is the Wednesday preceding the election.

Voting in New Hampshire is based on “domicile,” which is not always technically one’s legal residence, and the Secretary of State’s Office website says, “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 person has the right to change domicile at any time.”

Sununu’s call to repeal same-day registration won favorable reaction from state Sen.-elect Bob Giuda, a Warren Republican whose Senate District 2 includes the Haverhill and Plymouth area.

Giuda said he would have to look at any legislation but believes the current system unfairly allows people with little interest in the state to vote here.

“There have been situations where the system has been gamed, particularly in national elections,” said Giuda, who thinks such actions “negate the vote” of permanent New Hampshire residents.

“I was in Plymouth (on Election Day). They are busing kids in,” Giuda said. “I get that, but these kids are not residents of New Hampshire.

“There’s got to be a better way,” he said.

Republicans in the New Hampshire Legislature in 2015 did pass legislation that would have tightened the definition of domicile for voting purposes and required that a voter be a resident of the state for at least 30 days, but Hassan vetoed the measure.

“This durational requirement unnecessarily interferes with both the right to vote and the right to travel under the New Hampshire and United States Constitutions,” Hassan said in her veto message. “Similar restrictions have been found unconstitutional in states with same-day voter registration as there is no compelling state interest to support such a law.”

Staff writer John Gregg can be reached at jgregg@vnews.com.

Christopher Pappas, a Democrat on New Hampshire's Executive Council, is from Manchester. An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified his hometown.



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