State Republicans push to change election laws affecting college students


Ben MacKillop

In the first weeks of the 2021 legislative session, Republican lawmakers in Concord proposed multiple bills that would change voting in New Hampshire, especially for college students.  

One of these bills, HB86, has received national attention for its attempt to limit the ability for college students, especially those who are out-of-state, to vote in elections. HB86 would end same-day voter registration in New Hampshire for both general elections and primaries. Only 21 states currently allow some form of same day voter registration. 

HB86 would also make college students registering to vote with a university address attest that they qualify for in-state tuition, effectively not allowing out-of-state college students to vote in New Hampshire elections.  

This continues a push by GOP lawmakers to stop out-of-state college students from voting in New Hampshire elections. In 2017, when Republicans previously had trifecta control, the GOP pushed a bill which would have required all voters to have proof of a domicile in order to vote in state elections. This would have required out-of-state college students who live in university housing to have car registration, a driver’s license, or another proof of domicile in New Hampshire in order to vote.  

Both of these efforts in HB86 directly affect voter outreach for college students in New Hampshire, a demographic that has been largely successful for state Democrats. Use of same day voter registration in combination with get out the vote and ride sharing efforts have been at the core of voter outreach for college students.  

In 2016, over 30% of ballots cast in Durham general election were done via same day voter registration. In 2020, only 17% of votes cast were done via same day registration. However, over half of the ballots were cast absentee, many of which were at UNH-sponsored early voting events.   

The second controversial bill proposed by GOP lawmakers, SB43, would change New Hampshire election law to allocate electoral college votes by congressional district, the same system that has been used by 2 states – Maine and Nebraska – for decades. Senator Bill Gannon, the sponsor of the bill, told NHJournal that, “The current winner takes all system disenfranchises sometimes a majority of a New Hampshire district’s voters.” 

While this bill would not have changed the results of the New Hampshire election in 2020, if the system had been in place in 2016 Donald Trump would have earned one of New Hampshire’s four electoral votes.  

Electoral college reform has been a controversial topic for many years, especially following the 2016 election where Donald Trump won a wide electoral college victory despite losing the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes. If the Maine/Nebraska system proposed in SB43 was put in place in every state, presidential elections would look very different and in recent years typically skew for Republicans.  

If the district model had been in place in each of the past five elections Republican nominees would have gained 14, 33, and 64 electoral votes in the 2000, 2004, and 2008 elections respectively. In 2012, with the district model being used, Mitt Romney would have defeated Barack Obama due to a 72-vote difference with the two systems. Contrary to these trends, Donald Trump would have actually lost 12 votes in his victory over Hillary Clinton.  

Many progressives have instead supported throwing out the electoral college system altogether. In 2018, some NH Democrats introduced a bill for New Hampshire to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, an agreement where each state pledges their electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote, once member states of the compact surpass 270 electoral votes. While the compact is currently at 196 electoral votes, it will be very difficult to gain support from the remaining states, most of which have heavy Republican control.  

As the 2021 legislative session progresses, it is in the interest of out-of-state college-aged voters to pay attention, as many bills could impact them.  

Photo courtesy of POLITICO