“This common sense law simply clarifies what should be obvious to all of us – people should vote where they live,” New Hampshire House Speaker William O’Brien (R) said in early September.
Part of the political context here is that politicians feel threatened by the influence that college students can have on local elections, says Linda Fowler, a government professor at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. In 2008, a Dartmouth student from Montana ran for treasurer of Grafton County and beat out a Republican incumbent. She went on to do a terrible job, Professor Fowler says.
But to try to discourage out-of-state students from voting is “short-sighted” for Republicans, she adds. “In the 1980s, young people voted overwhelmingly for Ronald Reagan … and that generation became the most loyal cohort of Republican voters.”
There’s also a controversial new voter ID requirement in New Hampshire, though people without ID can sign an affidavit, and some of the stricter parts of the law don’t kick in until 2013. That, combined with the registration form, are making for a confusing landscape for college students, Fowler and other professors say.
Nationally, about 7 out of 10 young people don’t know whether their state requires a photo ID to vote, and 8 out of 10 don’t know about early-registration rules, according to a poll this summer by CIRCLE, a youth-voting research center based at Tufts University in Medford, Mass. (New Hampshire allows registration on Election Day.)