Just one week after vote-tallying snafus and reporting errors in the Iowa caucus resulted in widespread confusion about who the presumptive democratic front-runner actually is in the 2020 presidential election, voters are set to begin casting ballots in New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary.
The chaos of the caucuses has all but ensured that observers will have even more of a sceptical eye trained on the electoral proceedings in New Hampshire. But even if the voting goes off without a hitch, a recently-enacted law in the state has raised concerns among some who say it could have dramatic implications for students and young voters.
Back in February 2019, the ACLU of New Hampshire and national ACLU filed a motion in court to halt enforcement of the newly-enacted House Bill 1264. The bill, which is now a law, has effectively eliminated New Hampshire's status as the last state without residency requirements and now mandates that prospective voters obtain a state drivers license and register their vehicles with the DMV within 60 days of casting a ballot in order to prove residency. This provides a huge risk to first-time voters or college students who may not be eligible to vote under this new enactment.
The stipulations seem relatively benign at first glance, but some — including representatives from the progressive voting rights group America Votes and surrogates of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign — have argued that it would unduly burden young people and students in New Hampshire, particularly those from out of state.
“It is clear that college students, young people, and even town clerks are confused about what this law means,” Gilles Bissonnette, legal director at the ACLU of New Hampshire, said in a statement. “With the first-in-the-nation primary coming up in February, we must ensure that people know their rights and obligations when it comes to casting a New Hampshire ballot.”
Although New Hampshire’s Democrat-controlled state legislature introduced two bills aimed at repealing the voter registration restrictions, Gov. Chris Sonunu vetoed both, and a federal judge ultimately denied the ACLU’s appeal to prevent the law’s enforcement. A final ruling on the residency law is currently pending in the state’s Supreme Court, but the law will be in effect heading into Tuesday’s primary outings.
It’s a less than satisfactory outcome for some, including Warren’s New Hampshire campaign director Elizabeth Wester, who has been among the legislation’s most vocal opponents.
“To date we have been unable to find any clarification from any state officials and are thus unable to adequately advise students on the ramifications of a decision to register to vote in NH,” Wester wrote in an affidavit linked to the ACLU lawsuit. “The lack of clarity from the Secretary of State’s office has left a lot of confusion in college campuses across the state.”
The law would, and very well could, severely suppress first-time voters or young voters who were unable to abide by the 60-day driver's licence rule.