A federal judge has ruled that a Republican-backed law on voter residency can remain in place, while also asking the state Supreme Court to provide guidance on how the statute can be applied.
The American Civil Liberties Union and state Democratic Party had sought an injunction of House Bill 1264, a 2018 law that reclassified how residency is defined in New Hampshire.
In the first of two rulings, Judge Joseph Laplante said the plaintiffs had failed to show the law was sufficiently confusing to merit injunction. No witnesses provided evidence of the confusion the plaintiffs claimed.
“Notably, the plaintiffs produced no witnesses stating that confusion regarding HB 1264 has led them to decide not to register to vote,” Laplante wrote. “Indeed, all of the witnesses who testified that they currently have out-of-state licenses also testified that they are registered to vote in New Hampshire.”
In the other ruling, Laplante recommended that the New Hampshire Supreme Court clarify several aspects of how HB 1264 will work when put into practice, after which he would be able to gauge whether the law is constitutional.
In a 3-2 vote, the court already has declared the law constitutional, with the majority saying it would not create an undue burden on new residents.
Laplante cited questions about how the law will work in conjunction with the state’s election rules and its motor vehicle code.
The ACLU filed its case earlier this year on behalf of two Dartmouth College students who claim the law represented an undue burden by requiring they get a state driver’s license at a cost of about $50.
In defense of the law, the attorneys for the state have argued the law is intended to bring New Hampshire’s residency definition in line with that of other states.
In his ruling last week, Laplante found that “state officials have been slow to provide detailed guidance,” but that a recent letter from the attorney general, secretary of state and commissioner of safety “clarifies the State’s interpretation of New Hampshire law after the statutory changes.”
“Given this clarification,” the judge continued, “the plaintiffs have failed to show that they are likely to succeed on the merits of their confusion-based claims.”