Don’t silence NH’s young voters

The governor has a chance to ensure their voices can still be heard

The first-in-the-nation New Hampshire presidential primary makes New Hampshire’s young voters a key piece of an influential electorate — a proxy for the national youth and student voice. We have the impact and opportunity to help set the primary agenda on high-stakes issues such as healthcare, gun control and criminal justice reform. But, when House Bill 1264 goes into effect in July, we’ll lose much of our base and clout.

This summer, thousands of us will be silenced. HB 1264 will strip non-resident university students of their vote. These are people who live 75% (many as much as 100%) of the year in New Hampshire and are functional residents. They spend as much time here as the snowbird retirees who go south for the winter. Non-resident students are the majority at several state institutions, and HB 1264 is a voter suppression cleaver aimed at young voices.

Students are residents because they live here. It’s that simple. Claims of anything else are voter suppression veiled in partisan rhetoric. Students in New Hampshire will become a strategically muted population under HB 1264 — the definition of disenfranchisement.

New Hampshire will continue in its unique position and set the national agenda as the first primary state, but in 2020, it’ll be without Gen Z and young millennials.

Signed in 2018 by Gov. Chris Sununu, HB 1264 redefines residency and revokes the right for domiciled students to vote in New Hampshire. The bill requires resident status to vote, forcing students to incur hundreds of dollars in fees to register their cars and transfer their driver’s licenses to New Hampshire. This law is a de facto poll tax, disproportionately affecting marginalized and low-income students and targeting the groups who should have the strongest voice in order to support the dismantling of structural inequalities.

The result of HB 1264 is an increasingly classist system designed to create a stratified voting system and exclude diverse voices.

HB 1264 has received significant pushback. Poll taxes are a pernicious form of voter suppression, and the American Civil Liberties Union has challenged the constitutionality of HB 1264 on behalf of two Dartmouth College students.

HB 1264 isn’t just about the New Hampshire primary; it’s about the general election. College students tend to vote for progressive candidates, and their absence could swing some legislative districts and the outcome of statewide races.

We have the influence to identify progressive priorities on healthcare, reproductive rights, gun control, immigration, and other important issues. Lives depend on our ability to vote. One bill in a small state may seem inconsequential, but New Hampshire has a unique position with the first-in-the-nation primary, and the precedent we set will determine the national tone for the entirety of the election cycle.

The rest of New Hampshire’s population is rapidly aging. We have a severe workforce shortage. We don’t need brain drain. We need young people, and universities are great places to nurture future residents. Fewer than half of University of New Hampshire’s 13,000 students are New Hampshire residents, and the state’s universities are a major source of young talent for New Hampshire. Suppressing their right to vote is not a welcoming message.

Earlier this month, the New Hampshire Youth Movement, the New Hampshire Young Democrats and NextGen held a rally at the State House to pressure Sununu and Secretary of State Bill Gardner to support HB 106, which will restore New Hampshire’s pre-HB 1264 voting rules and allow students to vote without being burdened by residency-related fees.

Despite the pushback, it’s likely that Sununu will veto HB 106. New Hampshire needs national support to preserve our place and responsibilities as the first representatives of the nation’s youth.

We have a voice strong enough to establish early mobilization on key issues in the primaries and large enough to be an important player in the New Hampshire general election, but our base will be slashed by HB 1264.

HB 106 can save our voice, but we need your help.

To express your concern, please call Governor Sununu at 1-855-500-2901.

Fiona McEnany is a graduate student at Dartmouth College.

Categories: Government, Opinion