Secretary of State William Gardner recently made public comments that threaten the fundamental right to vote held by citizens who live in New Hampshire and call this state home. The secretary suggested that only citizens who meet the legal definition of “resident” under state law should be able to vote. He added that the Granite State permits “drive-by” voter fraud. Respectfully, he’s wrong. Gardner’s view that voting should be reserved for those who meet the definition of “resident” under state law would, if enacted, deprive the right to vote to thousands of citizens who call New Hampshire home. His position also violates Part I, Article 11 of the state constitution and has repeatedly been rejected by courts for more than 40 years. Just recently, the secretary’s view was rejected by two separate judges in a case challenging a controversial 2012 law that changed the state’s voter registration form to deliberately suppress voting rights. In striking down the registration form that the secretary supported, the superior court ruled in July that the form’s equating of legal “residency” with the right to vote is an “unreasonable description of the law” that would cause a chilling effect on voting rights.
To vote in New Hampshire under Part I, Article 11 of the state constitution, one needs to be “domiciled” here. To be “domiciled,” a voter must have “established a physical presence” in New Hampshire more than any other place, and manifest “an intent to maintain a single continuous presence” here “for domestic, social and civil purposes.”
This rigorous constitutional standard does not allow, as the secretary suggests, anyone to vote in New Hampshire simply if they are here momentarily on election day. Rather, a voter is required to reside continuously in New Hampshire and to act as if this state is home.
But to satisfy the definition of “resident” under state law, one has to both live in New Hampshire and have an intention to stay in the state “for the indefinite future.” Put another way, “residency” is premised on one’s mental state to remain here indefinitely. But if legal “residency” was the criteria to vote, thousands of people who live in New Hampshire would be disenfranchised simply because they may have plans – perhaps years in the future – to leave the state.