by Ken Gorrell,
Weirs Times Contributing Writer
Black’s Law Dictionary, the most widely used law dictionary in the US, defines domicile as “That place in which a man has voluntarily fixed the habitation of himself and family, not for a mere special or temporary purpose, but with the present intention of making a permanent home.”
Key to the legal concept of domicile is intent, which makes it, like so many legal issues, not as cut-and-dried as the layman could wish. Just as an idle mind is said to be the devil’s playground, a mind’s intent is a lawyer’s playground. Many billable hours have been spent debating a client’s intent.
According to Black’s, domicile is the “established, fixed, permanent, or ordinary dwelling-place or place of residence of a person, as distinguished from his temporary and transient, though actual, place of residence.” Domicile is not a “place to which business or pleasure may temporarily call him.” In law, a person may have many residences, but only one domicile.
Why the primer on the legal concept of domicile? Last week our NH senate passed a bill to more clearly define “domicile” as it pertains to voting. Though SB3 was approved by Republicans on a party-line vote, our Democrat Secretary of State supported it. Democrat senators, however, invoked their usual rhetorical hyperbole, declaring in a Caucus press release that “Instead of threatening would-be voters with the prospect of someone banging down there (sic) door to interrogate them on their voting eligibility…” Blah, blah, blah.
In reality, the bill merely defines domicile for voting purposes as “the principal or primary home or place of abode of a person…in which his or her habitation is fixed and to which a person, whenever he or she is temporarily absent, has the intention of returning after a departure or absence therefrom…” It then provides factors to be considered when determining one’s intent. It’s all very reasonable, especially if you value the idea that only those with meaningful ties to a community and state should be able to have a say at the voting booth.
The problem with SB3 isn’t that it’s unreasonable, or will lead to “voting police” banging down doors as hyperventilating Dems would want you to believe (even if they can’t possibly believe it themselves). No, the problem with SB3’s definition of domicile is that college residency counts.
The domicile bill has been framed by both sides as a voter fraud issue, but I think that’s too limited. For me, domicile is a matter of self-determination and the right of citizens to decide how their communities and state will be run. With few exceptions, students choose colleges based on educational factors, not with the intent of settling in the town or state where the college is located. Education is a “mere temporary or special purpose” per Black’s. Students who come to New Hampshire from out-of-state for education should not be allowed to influence with their vote how Granite State governments function.
This is especially true for students who maintain close connections with their out-of-state parents for financial support. Missing from the senate bill’s factors for determining domicile, but included in other states’ laws, is “sources of financial support.” Most students – undergraduates, especially – depend upon their parents for financial support. If a student at UNH were to drop out, is he more likely to stay in Durham to go it alone, or go home to his parents?
I support raising the bar for proving intent when it comes to domicile, to a point where most out-of-state students would not qualify. People who come to New Hampshire merely for an education should participate in the electoral process in the communities where they came from, where their parents live, where their true connections lie. Allowing them to vote here distorts our political process. It disenfranchises citizens who truly have made NH their permanent place of residence, their home, their domicile.
If we are going to allow out-of-state students to vote here, it’s time to revive the text of a bill that was deemed “inexpedient to legislate” back in 2014. HB1255 would have allowed “students whose name appears on the voter checklist eligible for in-state tuition rates at schools in the university system of New Hampshire.”
Fair is fair. If students have the right to vote here because it is their “intent” to make New Hampshire their principle or primary home, we should consider them Granite Staters for tuition purposes. Of course, acting in the best interests of NH citizens, our legislators should ensure that those students paying out-of-state tuition vote out-of-state as well.