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College students: New Hampshire is trying to stop us from voting

Five college students sue New Hampshire, saying a new form telling them they must, among other things, register their cars in the state to vote amounts to an illegal 'poll tax.'

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Jackie Haggett, a student at the University of New Hampshire, swears that her registration information is correct to a town election official as she registers to vote in Durham, N.H., Nov. 2, 2004. Eight years later, the New Hampshire legislature set higher hurdles for students registering to vote, including registering their cars and obtaining a NH driver's license.

Tim Boyd/AP/File

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Controversy over voter registration and ID laws typically centers on whether they disenfranchise poor and minority voters. Here in New Hampshire, a change in voter registration forms is facing a court challenge because of the hurdles it presents to college students.

College students have long been able to vote here while retaining residency in other states. But the Republican-controlled legislature voted to add a paragraph to registration forms requiring people to declare that they are subject to laws that apply to residents, including having to register their cars here and obtain a New Hampshire driver’s license.

That contradicts other laws on the books defining residency versus “voting domicile,” and because it includes fees, it’s an unconstitutional “poll tax” that impedes voting rights, the lawsuit claims.

“The amendment to the voter registration form was passed in a context of frustration that out-of-state students were voting in New Hampshire,” says Alan Cronheim, cooperating attorney with the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union Foundation, which filed the suit Sept. 12  on behalf of the League of Women Voters of New Hampshire and five out-of-state college students.

“Forty years ago the federal courts specifically required an out-of-state college student be allowed to vote [here]. This seems to be an effort by the legislature to revisit that issue,” he says.

In a close presidential race, the four electoral votes up for grabs in this battleground state are eagerly sought. It’s unknown whether the new form could discourage enough of the state’s roughly 30,000 out-of-state students from voting here to make a significant difference. But in 2008, a large majority of students here voted for Barack Obama.

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