The New Hampshire attorney general will appeal a Strafford County Superior Court ruling Monday that put on hold a new voter registration law that opponents claimed would disenfranchise nonresident college students. Secretary of State Bill Gardner, who supported the law that the Republican-dominated Legislature passed over Gov. John Lynch’s veto earlier this year, said he was told by the attorney general’s office that it would challenge Judge John Lewis’ decision. The ruling was issued after the state and the plaintiffs failed to come up with an agreement to remedy the dispute last week. In an eight-page decision, Lewis said the law did not pass “constitutional muster” and ordered the state to issue new voter registration forms without the language that required newly registered voters to acknowledge they are subject to all residency laws, including driver’s license and auto registration laws.
The ruling and the lawsuit that prompted it did not touch on the state’s voter photo ID law. That measure, which the Legislature also passed to override Lynch’s veto, is a separate provision of state law and is scheduled to be fully implemented on Election Day, Nov. 6. State law allows nonresidents to vote if they declare New Hampshire as their current “domicile,” but Lewis called the language of the new measure “an inaccurate and confusing expression” and sided with the plaintiffs — the League of Women Voters and four college students studying in New Hampshire who were represented by the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union.
Gardner believes Lewis did not understand or perhaps did not research the history of state and federal voter registration efforts over the past two decades. He said the legislation is part of a longtime effort to increase access and ensure fairness. “You can be a resident of many places but with domicile, you are establishing one unique place as your home to the exclusion of all others,” Gardner said. “If you establish domicile here, it means something, it means you have certain rights and responsibilities.”