Hillsborough Superior Court Judge David Anderson stuck down SB3 on Thursday, a New Hampshire law that closes a loophole allowing non-legal-residents of the Granite State to vote in local elections. The law has been the subject of an ongoing legal debate and the judge’s decision wasn’t entirely surprising.

But when Anderson pointed out in his ruling the original bill “was sponsored by 13 Republican state senators,” it raised eyebrows about whether the ruling was designed to protect voting rights or partisan interests.

That’s certainly the view of NHGOP Chairman Stephen Stepanek: “Today a Democrat-nominated judge decided to misinterpret legislative reasoning and dismiss the legislature’s intent and prerogative established when they passed Senate Bill 3 in 2017,” Stepanek said. “New Hampshire courts should not summarily suspend a law based on a partisan legal argument brought forward by the New Hampshire Democrat Party, and we are confident that future courts will recognize the constitutional nature of SB3.”

Before SB 3– and if Anderson’s ruling stands, in the near future — New Hamsphire law allowed college students and others merely domiciled in the state, but not legal residents, to vote in local elections. One example: During the 2020 presidential race, Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard moved to a rented house in Goffstown, N.H. while she campaigned in the First in the Nation primary. Without SB3, Rep. Gabbard could have legally voted for herself in the New Hampshire.

RALI New Hampshire

“It is not much to ask that New Hampshire resident citizens only be eligible to elect New Hampshire leaders,”  J. Christian Adams of the Public Interest Legal Foundation wrote for NHJournal at the time the bill was signed. “Requiring that one must be a resident of a state to register to vote there is not radical. It’s not even rare. Browse through the location-specific instructions on the federal voter registration form provided by each state and witness how common it is to see the term ‘resident’ with a durational requirement to boot.”

Democrats opposed to the bill focused on what they say are Republicans’ overblown claims of voter fraud, and they insist that requiring residency is a form of “voter suppression.” A Thursday press release from House Democrats bore the headline:

VOTER SUPPRESSION BILL SB 3 RULED UNCONSTITUTIONAL” 

“From the moment SB 3 was introduced in the legislature, Democrats warned that it was an unconstitutional attempt to violate the equal protection of qualified voters, and unnecessarily burden the exercise of the right to vote,” House Election Law Chair David E. Cote (D-Nashua) said in the release. “Today’s ruling validates those warnings.  SB 3 added no security to our elections and created separate classes of voters with different qualifications. Judge Anderson’s clear and correct decision is welcome news for fair and accessible elections.”

Anderson also dismissed concerns about voter fraud presented by defenders of SB 3, noting that little evidence of actual incidents of fraudulent voting was presented. However, he also acknowledged that requiring residency wasn’t inherently an undue burden for voters.

“The problem with SB 3 is not that it creates a system that encourages voters to be actively turned away from the polls or physically prevents individuals from registering by, for example, requiring specific types of documentation that are impossible for one group to obtain. The burdens imposed by SB 3 are more subtle,” Anderson wrote. “SB 3 does not stop someone at the polls from casting a ballot; it discourages them from showing up in the first place.”

The problem with Anderson’s argument is that there’s no evidence any voters were discouraged under SB3. In fact, nearly 300,000 people cast ballots in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, far surpassing 2016’s turnout and breaking a record set in 2008.

And despite claims that the bill was crafted to stop out-of-state college students from voting in local elections, turnout was up in college towns like Durham and Keene, too.

New Hampshire Solicitor General Daniel Will has said the state plans to appeal Anderson’s ruling to the state Supreme Court. State Sen. Regina Birdsell (R-Hampstead), a prime sponsor of the bill, told NHJournal she wants the fight to continue.

“I’m really disappointed,” she said “I don’t think it’s unreasonable to want people who vote in elections that impact your community to actually live in your community. When you go to the New Hampshire Democratic state convention, you have to bring ID and prove you’re a Democrat. They want votes cast by people who have a stake in the party.

“Is it asking too much for our voters to have a stake in the future of New Hampshire?” Birdsell asked.

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