Voter Residency Requirement

In Brief:

  • Individuals domiciled in New Hampshire who are United States citizens and who will be 18 years old on election day are eligible to vote. There is no minimum period of time that an individual is required to have lived in the state before being allowed to vote.
  • The state bases its eligibility on where an individual is domiciled. This differs from residency in that residents must intend to stay in the state “for the indefinite future”, where a person can be domiciled in New Hampshire even if they intend to leave eventually (e.g. college students or those assigned here on military duty).
  • A recurring issue in the New Hampshire Legislature is whether voter eligibility in the state should be tied to a more strict definition of a residency requirement.
  • Proponents of a residency requirement seek to narrow who is allowed to vote in New Hampshire in order to prevent fraud and abuse.
  • Opponents say a change in the law is directed at disenfranchising college students and that the current system has worked without incidents of fraud or abuse.

Issue Facts:

Under Part I, Article 11 of the New Hampshire Constitution, every individual domiciled in the state of New Hampshire, who is a United States citizen and age 18 or older, is qualified to vote in New Hampshire.  

The New Hampshire Secretary of State’s office provides the following definition of domicile: “An inhabitant's domicile for voting purposes is that one place where a person, more than any other place, has established a physical presence and manifests an intent to maintain a single continuous presence for domestic, social, and civil purposes relevant to participating in democratic self-government. A person has the right to change domicile at any time, however a mere intention to change domicile in the future does not, of itself, terminate an established domicile before the person actually moves.”

The issue of intent concerns policy makers because it technically allows someone to register to vote even if they haven’t established a permanent residence. They argue someone can spend one night in a community, register as a voter, then decide to move out of the community the day after an election.

Leaving setting election laws to the states has put policy makers at odds over the years on how to determine just who is a resident and if they are eligible to vote. It is a significant issue in a relatively small state that has many college and university students, a significant number of whom come from out of state. College students are often perceived as voting more progressively on issues and candidates.

Registering to vote in New Hampshire

  • You may register up to 10 days prior to the election in person at the town or city clerk's office for the town or city where you have established your voting domicile or on Election Day at your polling place. 
  • Each applicant should bring documents which can prove identity, domicile, citizenship and age. The law treats a New Hampshire driver’s license, non-driver ID, other government issued photo identification that lists your name and the address you claim as your voting domicile, ora  vehicle registration form as presumptive evidence of your domicile. These will generally be accepted as proof of age and identity. A list of other acceptable documents can be found here.

As of 2017, if you register to vote less than 30 days before an election, you'll be asked to show additional evidence that you intend to stay in the state (for example, a lease, a New Hampshire drivers' license, or proof of registering your child at a New Hampshire school). Those registering on election day will have up to 10 days after the election (or 30 days in towns where town offices are only open part-time) to bring that evidence to your town clerk. Voters who fail to do so could be investigated.

History

Bills in the Legislature have come and gone, aiming to make a variety of different changes to state laws regarding voter residency requirements.

Most significantly, in 2012, the Legislature passed a law that required individuals wishing to register to vote in New Hampshire to be residents of the state, rather than merely domiciled here. Then-Gov. John Lynch vetoed the bill, but the veto was overridden. However, the New Hampshire Supreme Court struck down the law.

There have been further attempts to link the right to vote in New Hampshire with residency rather than domicile. However, none have passed the Legislature since 2012.

Other bills submitted in recent years have attempted to require that individuals must have lived in the state for 15 or 30 days before registering to vote.

Federal law

The National Voter Registration Act of 1993, also known as the “Motor Voter Law,” requires states to offer voter registration opportunities at motor vehicle agencies and voter registration opportunities by mail-in application. However, it makes no mention of rules regarding residency or eligibility. New Hampshire was one of a handful of states exempt from the federal law because it implemented election day registration at polling places.

Other states

No state in New England has a residency requirement. However, other states have put stricter regulations in place. For example, New York does have a 30-day residency requirement.

Areas of Contention

Voter fraud?

Efforts to tighten New Hampshire’s voting laws are often inspired by concerns about voter fraud.

This issue gained particular prominence after the 2016 general election, when President Donald Trump mentioned New Hampshire as a state where he claimed “millions” of fraudulent ballots had been cast.

However, election officials, including former Attorney General Joseph Foster, have stated they found no evidence of widespread voter fraud in New Hampshire. Secretary of State William Gardner reported that of 755,000 ballots cast in the November 2016 election, 1,124 were from voters without ID or who were not recognized by a poll worker. As of February 2017, 600 of those votes had been confirmed, with 500 not yet accounted for.

Some voters do register in New Hampshire using an out-of-state ID. This is legal if one is domiciled here—for example, in cases where someone recently moved to the state, or for college students. According to data from the Secretary of State’s office, less than 1% of voters in the 2016 election registered to vote without a New Hampshire driver’s license.

A smaller-scale controversy erupted in 2012 following reports that four out-of-state campaign workers staying at the home of Democrat state Sen. Martha Fuller Clark used her address to register to vote in New Hampshire. An investigation by the New Hampshire attorney general determined that this did not constitute voter fraud, as the campaign workers qualified as legally domiciled in New Hampshire at the time. The incident is often cited by those advocating for a revision of the definition of “domicile” under state law.

Same-day registration

Same-day voter registration allows eligible residents to register on election day at the polls. 

Domicile or resident?

Currently, New Hampshire state law requires that voters be “domiciled” in the state in order to register to vote. However, some have argued for a constitutional amendment to require voters to be “resident” in the state. The main difference between the legal definitions of “domiciled” versus “resident” lies in intent: a resident must intend to stay in the state “for the indefinite future”.

This means that any individual whose stay in New Hampshire has a logical end date, such as a college student, would be ineligible to register to vote.

Minimum stay

Several bills in recent years have attempted to institute a requirement that individuals have lived in New Hampshire for a minimum length of time—for example, 15 or 30 days—before they are eligible to vote here. Similar laws have been put into place in other states.

Want to know more about how to register to vote in New Hampshire? Click here.

PROS & CONS

"For" Position

“NH should impose stricter requirements for voter residency.”

  • Proponents of stricter residency requirements are concerned about the opportunity for fraud.  “The concern that Republicans that I talk to have is about the opportunity for fraud, not actual episodes of fraud. And I think that the way New Hampshire laws are written makes it possible for someone to commit fraud because of how easily it is for someone to register to vote on the day of the election," said Bryan Gould, a lawyer and former vice chair of the NH GOP, who was part of an election day legal team representing Republicans.
  • Current law regarding registration is too loose, according to Gov. Sununu. "... the system allows for so much flexibility and gray area in terms of who's a resident, who's not, how long has he been here, same-day voter ... what are the checks and balances?" said Sununu.
  • The question of intention— whether someone intends to live in a community or not—is too big a loophole. "Literally, someone can walk into a polling place, have in his or her mind at the time that he or she intends to live in that town, can vote, and then walk out the door and change his or her mind and that is not illegal under New Hampshire law. And you can see how that could be abused," said Gould.

The preceding points were made during an airing on Dec. 5, 2016 of The Exchange program on New Hampshire Public Radio during a panel discussion entitled “New Hampshire Voting Laws: Too Tight, Too Lax, Just Right?”

"Against" Position

“NH should not impose stricter requirements for voter residency.”

  • Typically, Republican-leaning legislatures have expressed concern about the same-day registration of college students, primarily because it is perceived that most college students tend to favor more liberal perspectives and candidates, so college students are being unfairly targeted with residency requirement legislation.
  • The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has argued that imposing a residency condition on the right to vote would disenfranchise, for example, a Manchester executive intending to retire in Florida, a medical resident living here while completing her hospital training, or a member of the U.S. Navy who lives in Portsmouth but knows he will be transferred somewhere else in two years.
  • Being domiciled, according to the ACLU, does not mean anyone could vote in the state simply because they want to or are in the state on Election Day. Instead, a person is domiciled in New Hampshire for voting purposes if that person has a continuous physical presence here and treats this state as home.
  • The New Hampshire Supreme Court unanimously struck down the 2012 state law that required voters be state residents, not just domiciled here, in order to vote.

The preceding points were made by Todd Selig, administrator of the Town of Durham, writing an “Another View” opinion piece in the Dec. 5, 2016 print and online editions of the Union Leader

LEGISLATIVE HISTORY

Signed by Governor

Changes the definition of domicile for voting purposes to make it more restrictive. This bill explicitly excludes anyone who comes to the state "for temporary purposes," such as volunteering or working on political campaigns. Out-of-state college students are still allowed to claim a domicile in New Hampshire. However, if someone moves to a new New Hampshire address within 30 days of voting, he or she must present proof of intent to stay in New Hampshire. This proof could include a lease, driver's license, a child's enrollment at a public school, etc. The voter has until 10 days after the election to provide this proof to the town clerk. If the voter does not present this proof, he or she may be investigated, including a home visit by election officials.

In Committee

Modifies various provisions relating to who is eligible to vote, for example requiring a voter to confirm they are a resident of New Hampshire. This bill also eliminates the separate election day voter registration form.

Killed in the House

Makes various changes to voter registration laws. First, this bill changes the definition of domicile to be "the person's permanent legal residence." The definition of domicile also requires someone to live in a district at least thirty days before voting in that district. Voters would have the new option of registering to vote at the DMV. This bill also eliminates election day voter registration, and requires voters to register at least thirty days before an election. This bill also requires voters be a registered member of a party before the date of a primary election in order to vote in the primary. Lastly, the bill requires New Hampshire colleges to issue student IDs that show if a student is in-state or out-of-state.

In Committee

Changes the definition of domicile for voting purposes to make it more restrictive. For example, this bill explicitly excludes anyone who comes to the state "for a temporary purpose," such as volunteering or working on political campaigns. This bill also requires a voter to live in the state at least thirteen days before voting.

In Committee

Modifies the affidavit a voter signs to swear that he or she is domiciled in New Hampshire. For example, this bill makes it mandatory for the voter to provide a telephone number. This bill also only allows a voter to sign the affidavit when registering to vote on the day of an election; if registering to vote on another day, the voter must provide proof of domicile beyond the affidavit, such as a driver's license.

Signed by Governor

Requires that information on the use of out-of-state drivers' licenses and nondrivers' identification cards be recorded in the statewide centralized voter registration database.

Killed in the House

Repeals the authority of election officials to vouch for the identity of voters or to accept any photo identification they determine to be legitimate.

In Committee

Requires voters without photo ID to prove their identity to the supervisors of the checklist within ten days.

In Committee

Allows voters to sign an affidavit - rather than showing ID - only if registering on election day. This bill also eliminates separate voter registration forms for persons registering at the polling place.

In Committee

Includes additional conduct under wrongful voting prohibitions. Specifically, this bill makes it a misdemeanor to provide false proof of age, citizenship or domicile, or to falsely state that another person is domiciled at one' s address.

Should NH impose strict residency requirements on registering to vote?

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Issue Status

The Legislature passed SB 3, which tightens both the definition of 'domicile' and lists the specific evidence one must present in order to prove he or she is domiciled in New Hampshire. The bill does include 'attending an institution of higher learning' within the definition of domicile, which means college students from out-of-state are still allowed to vote here. 

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