The 2016 election was a bittersweet one for the New Hampshire Republican Party. The GOP won unified control of the state government, but Hillary Clinton carried the state and Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan squeaked out a narrow victory. Donald Trump alleged that voters bused in illegally from Massachusetts tipped the state away from him, a claim endorsed by GOP state legislators despite a total lack of evidence. Kansas’ Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the head of Trump’s voter fraud commission, has also falsely claimed to have “proof” that thousands of illegal votes tipped the 2016 election toward Democrats. In response, New Hampshire Republicans have initiated a crackdown on voting rights designed to suppress likely Democratic voters.
First, legislators rammed through a voter intimidation bill, creating new documentation requirements for those who wish to cast a ballot and subjecting them to arrest and prosecution if they lack the necessary forms. (A state court quickly blocked the measure.) Now Republicans are taking aim at the population they blame for last year’s Democratic successes: college students. A new bill would impose steep fees on all voters who lack a New Hampshire driver’s license—despite the fact that it is perfectly legal to vote in New Hampshire with an out-of-state license. The measure is tantamount to a post-election poll tax. It stands an excellent chance of becoming law.
New Hampshire has a long history of disenfranchising college students. Shortly after the ratification of the 26th Amendment in 1971, which lowered the national voting age to 18, the state declared it could deny the ballot to university students who planned to leave the state after graduation. A federal court disagreed in 1972’s Newburger v. Peterson, ruling that students hold a constitutional right to vote where they live. But when the state began swinging to the left in the 1990s, Republican lawyers flooded the polls to challenge students attempting to register with out-of-state licenses. GOP town clerks also illegally denied ballots to university students. And in 2012, the Republican-dominated state Legislature passed a confusing law that incorrectly informed new voters that they could register only if they planned to remain in the state indefinitely. The New Hampshire Supreme Court unanimously struck downthat measure as a violation of the state constitution.