NH students withdraw voting rights lawsuit after court input

CONCORD (AP) — Lawyers representing two Dartmouth College students who challenged a New Hampshire law that required voters to be full-fledged residents of the state withdrew their federal lawsuit Friday, two days after the state Supreme Court weighed in on a judge’s questions.

The law, which took effect last July, ended state law distinctions between “residency” and “domicile.” The American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire, which sued the secretary of state and attorney general last year, said the law created confusion and burdened the students’ right to vote. The state said any confusion is “self-created and sustained.”

Before the law took effect, New Hampshire was the only state that didn’t require residency to vote. Though it doesn’t change the process of registering to vote, the law effectively makes out-of-state college students who vote in New Hampshire subject to residency requirements, such as obtaining drivers’ licenses and registering cars.

The students wanted to vote in New Hampshire while attending college, but didn’t intend to remain in the state after graduation. Both have driver’s licenses from other states, but they don’t own cars. They registered to vote in New Hampshire in 2018. The state Democratic Party also joined as a plaintiff.

In November, U.S. District Judge Joseph LaPlante ruled against the ACLU’s request to block the law from being enforced in time for the first-in-the-national presidential primary in February. But, he also had questions on how the law could interact with the state’s motor vehicle code and election rules. He submitted five questions to the state supreme court for review. The court came back with answers to most of them Wednesday that agreed with conclusions reached by the state.

The court wrote that nonresident college students who wish to drive in the state, reside there for more than six months in any year and whose vehicles “are principally used in connection with the New Hampshire abode” must register them in New Hampshire and get a New Hampshire driver’s license, even if they don’t vote in the state.

“This technical, state law decision does not change the fact that if you live in New Hampshire, you can vote in New Hampshire and does not address the constitutionality of the law,” Henry Klementowicz, attorney for the ACLU of New Hampshire, said in a statement. “It is also important to note that you do not need a New Hampshire driver’s license to vote in the state. We have said since the beginning that driver’s licensing and voting should not be linked, and after this decision, we have come to the decision that it is no longer necessary to pursue this case any further. However, we will continue working to ensure that there is not unequal or unfair enforcement of the law.”

Gov. Chris Sununu said the dismissal is welcome news for New Hampshire voters.

“Our laws will now truly guarantee an equal right to vote and align New Hampshire with virtually every other state,” he said in a statement.

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