The New Hampshire Supreme Court will be asked to weigh in on a bill to eliminate the distinction between full-fledged residency and being domiciled in the state for voting purposes.
Current law allows college students and others who consider the state their domicile to vote without being subject to residency requirements, such as getting a New Hampshire driver's license or registering a vehicle. The Legislature sent Republican Gov. Chris Sununu a bill last week to align the definitions of domicile and residency, but he wants the court to clarify whether doing so would be constitutional.
"Every state has an obligation to ensure the integrity of its voting process ... and making sure that every individual's right to vote is protected. I think we can all appreciate as the first-in-the-nation primary state, we have even more of an obligation to make sure we get it right," Sununu told the Executive Council on Wednesday.
The Republican-led council voted 3-2 along party lines to approve Sununu's request for an advisory opinion on the bill. Democrats, who believe the bill is aimed at disenfranchising college students and low-income residents, argued the council shouldn't get drawn into the governor's veto process.
"It sets a dangerous precedent that involves the council in areas it is structurally not intended to participate," said Councilor Andru Volinsky.
Councilor Chris Pappas said he also objected to the request.
"To me this seems like a late tactic at end of the legislative process, as opposed to a question that should've been answered further upstream," he said.
Sununu told reporters later that it would have been inappropriate to go to the court while the bill was still being finalized. If the court finds no constitutional issues with it, Sununu said "It would be hard not to sign it," though he stopped short of saying he would.
"We'll see what their opinion comes back as," he said. "We really just have to wait to see what they say."
He also declined to say whether he believes out-of-state college students should be allowed to vote in New Hampshire. As for his comments to a young activist in December when he said "I hate it" when asked about the bill, Sununu said he was referring to unanswered questions about constitutionality.
"I did not appreciate the bill was being pushed forward without asking those questions and without getting into that review," he said.
State Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley accused Sununu of trying "to pass the buck to anybody who will take it."
"It's hard to believe Sununu is foolish enough to think he has to sign every bill that is deemed constitutional, regardless of how he feels about the legislation," he said in a statement.