Managing Executive Editor
While the definitions of the words “domicile” and “residency” may not hold a lot of significance for most people, for out-of-state college students, it’s the difference in their ability to vote in the presidential election this November. While the case was heard in N.H. Superior Court, out-of-state college students in New Hampshire can now vote, according to a New Hampshire judge who reviewed the case.
The definition of “domicile” is the place where you live for the majority of the time. “Residency,” however, means where a person actually lives and has intent to live there indefinitely. So for an out-of-state student, his or her domicile would be New Hampshire, but their residency would be whatever other state they return home to in the summer months.
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Senate Bill 318, which affected how residents registered to vote, passed in August of this year, following the Republican-dominated legislature overriding Governor John Lynch’s veto in June. While the two words are similar, New Hampshire law stated that those who are domiciled here could vote, meaning they live in the state for most of their nights but do not have an indefinite intent to reside in New Hampshire. This changed in August with the legislature’s override. However, according to the Union Leader, Strafford County Superior Court Judge John Lewis overturned the bill recently, allowing those domiciled here the right to vote.
After an appeal from the New Hampshire attorney general Michael Delaney, the ruling that out-of-state students can vote in New Hampshire still stands—but with some clarifications. Judge John Lewis ordered the Secretary of State Bill Gardner to state on his website that out-of-state students do not need to register their car or go through the process of getting a N.H. state license if they wish to vote. According to the Union Leader, Gardner argued the new paragraph was legally inaccurate, while Delaney said that the judge’s actions were creating an entirely new legal scenario instead of returning matters back to how they were before Senate Bill 318 was passed.
Judge John Lewis agreed, and partially reversed his order. “The Court agrees with the State that this . . . requirement went beyond what should properly be entered here. [T]he statement may not be an entirely accurate expression of the law,” he wrote, according to the Union Leader.
Integral to the change in the law, Claire Ebel, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, filed a lawsuit on behalf of four college students. The students included one KSC student, Ariel DeLaura, while the other students were from the University of New Hampshire. Ebel said she had put in many hours of work into looking at the voting laws, particularly the domicile issue.
“I spent a great deal of time to start with in the fall of 2011 working with a committee to took at voting laws. The bill at the time was Senate Bill 356. We put in hundreds of hours, “ she said. Once Senate Bill 356 passed, Ebel said she testified against two separate bills, the voting registration bill as well as the voter ID bill. Ebel said she spoke out against both bills in both houses of the New Hampshire legislature.
Ebel spoke about the crucial differences in the meaning between domicile and residency. “The first law on the domicile issue, Bill 318, domicile is equated with residency, which according to the law, is wrong. When any political group attempts to restrict or curtail the fundamental Constitutional right of every American citizen to vote, that is the crucible on which democracy must function.”
Ebel further elaborated on the difference between the two words in the eyes of New Hampshire law. “I don’t know how many state states have ‘domicile’ in their Constitution, but we do. It is the choice you make when you register to vote. You can decide where your domicile is, but you cannot have more than one.”
However, before the judge reviewed the law, domicile and residency were the same, according to Senate Bill 318. Ebel said having the two different terms mean the same thing served as a penalty to students and temporary workers who live in the state. Ebel said after filing the lawsuit, the judge gave a preliminary injunction and that the Secretary of State would have to change the language on the forms and distribute them, in addition to engaging all moderators in educational programs so they knew exactly what the law meant. However, Ebel said she believed it would be an even shot if the N.H. attorney general would file an appeal. Come last Friday, news broke the attorney general had in fact issued an appeal.
If students were to vote in New Hampshire, they would have had to register their car and have an indefinite intent to live in New Hampshire. For college students who live in New Hampshire for eight months in college, it is difficult to afford registering a car in New Hampshire, as well as taking on town taxes.
For students looking at resources online for information on registering to vote in New Hampshire, dmv.org, a website offering information on laws in every state, still says a person registering to vote in New Hampshire must have a valid NH license.
However, on the city of Keene’s website, the process of registering to vote is updated. It notes that a valid driver’s license is what is necessary to register to vote. In lieu of a driver’s license, passport, birth certificate or anything else to identify the person trying to register to vote, one can sign a qualified voting affidavit, a form provided by the city clerk.
On the Secretary of State Bill Gardner’s website, a special section is designated for college students who would like to vote. According to the website, “New Hampshire election law provides college students with a special privilege when determining where they register to vote. A college student in New Hampshire may choose as his/her voting domicile, either the domicile he/she held before entering college or the domicile he/she has established while attending college.” The website defines domicile according to New Hampshire state law, and emphasizes voters looking to register must present a form of identification, even if it’s an out-of state license or a military ID. Before, however, Senate Bill 318 stipulated out-of-state students would have to register their car.
“For a student, registering your car could be up to $500 and they can’t afford that. It’s $200 a year to register, plus town taxes on the vehicle you are registering. This is intimidating to students who are not wealthy,” Ebel said. While some students may file absentee ballots in order to vote in the election, some student feel as though they spend most of their year in New Hampshire, so they should be able to vote in New Hampshire. Ebel, a passionate supporter of voting rights, emphasized that the law disenfranchising students that has now been overturned was an effort to intimidate students away from the polls.
Emily Montplaisir, a KSC sophomore, said this requirement to vote is unconstitutional, plain and simple. This would constitute a voting tax, which by law, is against the Constitution of the United States.
“I’ve heard so many rumors about students who are afraid to vote in New Hampshire, some are worried that they will be turned away come November,” she said. “All of the information out there is confusing, but they need to know that they now CAN vote and they should vote.”
Montplaisir also spoke about how the previous law should be struck down. She said she believes that William O’Bryan, the speaker of the house in New Hampshire, has tried to disenfranchise college student voters. Montplasir also spoke out about William O’Brien, who was reported to have said college students tend to vote liberal.
“My peers are smart. I have more faith in college students than he does. There are people who will vote for whoever, but there are a lot of people who know what they stand for and what’s best for our country,” she said. If the out-of-state students weren’t allowed to vote in New Hampshire, then that would decrease the constituency of people in New Hampshire within the ages of 18-21.
“I’ve heard so many rumors about whether or not students are allowed to vote here, concerning whether they have to register their cars or not. Many people are scared to get registered because they think they can’t vote in Keene,” Montplaisir said. She also said that the voting registration law is a poll tax.
“It’s a law to shoo students away from voting. Even the local elections affect us too. I would want to vote for the governor of the state where I go to school in,” she said.
Ebel also spoke about the voting ID bill, which has not been addressed yet in the New Hampshire legislature. “The national media is so focused on the voter ID law, but this is the issue of domicile. Voter ID decision has not been made yet, Domicile versus residency clearly impacts military, college students, visiting professors who are here for a semester or temporary workers.”
Allie Bedell, a junior and chair of the KSC Republicans, said that while her organization hasn’t taken an official stance on the issue, her personal opinion is that every student should be voting where they reside. Her domicile is in Londonderry, N.H.
“It is important everyone votes. Some of the local offices, however, the city counselor, the state representatives, are representing tax payers, and I don’t think it’s fair for me to tell those who live in Keene how to allocate their tax dollars,” she said. “I’m emphasizing efforts for absentee ballots. Students in dorms, their domicile should not be Holloway Hall. They are not paying taxes, so they should not be voting in Keene.”
In addition, Bedell said, “I separate students into two categories–on-campus and off-campus. The ones living off campus are basically paying the city of Keene a tax by paying rent. The students living in the dorms on campus are not paying town taxes.”
According to city clerk Patricia Clark, while her office does not do much in terms of educating students about the changes in voting registration laws, her office does hold registration drives at KSC. “At this point, certainly students are eligible to come participate in the Keene election, our final registration drive is from 11 to 2 p.m.,” she said.”The concerning language in the affidavit in the voter registration has been removed at this point, about registering a car in NH. We are back to what our status quo was before the bill was passed.” Clark also spoke about the value of the college students in comparison to the city census.
“The city of Keene always encourages students to engage in the democractic process, and all our citizens benefit from the college population being here, without that census number, we would lose our representation in Concord, so we always look forward to encouraging the college students to vote.”
Ebel concluded by speaking about the intimidation or chilling factor this law placed on people who are out-of-state but would like to vote here.
“It is trying to convince, persuade or intimidate students into not registering to vote. They cannot scare anyone out of doing it. It’s an abomination and it is indefensible.”
The executive director of the ACLU said it was not a difficult decision to “successfully challenge the law.” The Senate Bill 318 is “a corruption of democracy, the fundamental system that our democracy is based on. You are part of the electorate, you have a right to vote and you may vote where you are domiciled. There is no other justification.”
According to the latest update from the Union Leader, the NH Supreme Court will hold hearing the attorney general’s appeal until after the November 6 election, proving to be a victory for those who say the bill is an effort to disenfranchise out-of-state students.
Whitney Cyr can be contacted at