UNH hosts teach-in on newly introduced NH voting legislation

Bret Belden

The departments of history, political science, international affairs and the women’s studies program held a teach-in on Thursday, March 9, discussing newly introduced voting legislation in the New Hampshire state Senate. The panel, which is comprised of UNH professors, accomplished New Hampshire attorneys and UNH students familiar with New Hampshire politics, discussed recently introduced legislation in the New Hampshire state Senate that looks to alter the definition of “domicile” in regards to voting rights in New Hampshire.

This talk, in Theater II of the Memorial Union Building, was part of a number of other teach-ins the Center of the Humanities has sponsored over the course of the year discussing a variety of topics, from New Hampshire voting legislation to the future of immigration policy under the Trump Administration.

Currently, a person must “maintain a physical presence” in New Hampshire, more than any other place, with “an intent to maintain a singular continuous presence…for domestic, social and civil purposes” if he or she wishes to vote in New Hampshire elections. However, the proposed legislation, officially named SB3, would strictly interpret the meaning of domicile and not allow anyone, “without the intention of making [New Hampshire] his or her home but with the intention of leaving it when he or she has accomplished the purpose that brought him or her there” to claim domicile in New Hampshire, thus losing the right to vote.

History professor Jason Sokol, a specialist in 20th century U.S. history and the civil rights movement, gave historical background to the struggle for the right to vote in the United States.

“The chief weapon in the fight for freedom, is the vote,” Sokol said opening his discussion on the civil rights movement and their quest for equal voting rights for African-Americans back in the 1960s. He then gave example of how equal voting right activists were met with extreme violence, some losing their lives, from Alabamian residence and state troopers on the marches from Selma to Montgomery. He then moved to cases of inconsistent federal protection of voting rights throughout history. Sokol then ended his talk by stating how in 2013, the Supreme Court struck down federal enforcement of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

“It is up to the states,” Sokol said, “like New Hampshire, to preserve the right to vote.”

Next to speak were New Hampshire attorney Alan Cronheim and UNH School of Law Professor John Greabe. Both gave insight to the legality of the new legislation and voiced concern the proposed changes fall in line with the United States’ past history of voter suppression.

“Voter suppression is not new,” Cronheim said. “It is our history…now in New Hampshire, there is pending legislation defining and limiting who is entitled to vote.” Cronheim would continue to voice his concern that the new legislation was a political move on the part of Senate Republicans to address the disproportionately Democratically voting university students, as many university students are not  citizens of New Hampshire.

However, Greabe addressed this point of citizenship by bringing up Article III and the 14th Amendment and how they already defined what citizenship standard is needed to vote.

“Students in New Hampshire, for the time being, you are domicile in New Hampshire under federal law,” Greabe said. “State citizenship trumps any finite definition of domicile the state legislature might come up with.”