Dartmouth voting ‘prank’ undermines government

To the editor:

The item headed “Electoral College” in the Flotsam & Jetsam section of your Jan. 30-Feb. 12 issue mocks Grafton County Republicans generally and former County Treasurer Carol Elliott in particular as “sore losers” for daring to question the process by which Dartmouth College students voting in last November’s election were able to elect a Dartmouth College junior – with no evident qualifications for or any apparent intention to do the job – to replace Mrs. Elliott.

While quick to criticize Ms. Elliott’s “failure to understand the tidal wave of young voters – particularly college students – that was long expected to sweep the nation,” NHBR fails to appreciate the constitutional and practical objections to this undergraduate prank.

College students are overwhelmingly transients who have little or no present stake and absolutely no long-term interest in the municipality, county – and often the state – in which the college is located. The idea that any such transient should have the wherewithal to cancel out the vote of a genuinely domiciled inhabitant is abhorrent. As usual, the authors of the New Hampshire Constitution supplied the answer to this problem before it ever arose by basing the right to vote in this state on domicile, not mere temporary residence.

“Domicile” and “residence” are often thought to be the same thing, but the legal distinction is clear: A domicile is the place where a person has his true, fixed and permanent home and principal establishment, and to which, whenever he is absent, he has the intention of returning. A “residence” is not a “domicile” if unaccompanied by positive or presumptive proof of a present intention to continue residing there for an unlimited time. Domicile is based on present intention, not an intention that may be formed later, or a decision that is being put off until another day. Until one forms a present intention to remain in a given place indefinitely into the future, one’s previous domicile is not lost; he remains legally domiciled in that place.

The overwhelming majority of the enrollees of Dartmouth College are not domiciled in Hanover, Grafton County, or even the state of New Hampshire. Very few of them intend to remain in New Hampshire any longer than the time it takes to earn their degrees, it being their present intention to go wherever their employment or other post-graduate opportunities take them. Such students do not meet the minimum constitutional requirements to entitle them to vote here.

Instead of defending it, NHBR should be troubled by the distortion of public policy decision-making of state and local government inherent in such trivializing of the right to vote as resulted in the defeat of Ms. Elliott.

Gregory M. Sorg

Categories: Cook on Concord