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Valley News

November 6, 2002

Student Voters Stalled
By Omar Sacirbey

Hanover -- Republican challenges to the voting eligibility of hundreds of
Dartmouth students caused long delays in voting yesterday and angered students and non-students alike, even causing some to direct their votes away from the GOP.

"I was very annoyed. I can totally understand why people give up on the
democratic process," said Chelsea Carroll, a Dartmouth student who voted at Hanover High School.

Describing herself as a slightly right-of-center independent, Carroll came to the polls intending to vote a mixed ticket. Instead, she voted a straight
Democratic ticket because of the challenge to her voting rights, she said.

"It was a ridiculous ploy. It ended up backfiring," she said, adding that she had heard several students say they had also voted against the Republican ticket after being challenged.

The challenge effort was spearheaded by Edward Naile, head of the Coalition of New Hampshire Taxpayers, who said the state GOP had appointed him as a poll-watcher. He argued that many students at Dartmouth and other New Hampshire colleges had been recruited by the state's Democratic Party to vote in this election, even though they were not truly New Hampshire residents. He said he was especially concerned about the high number of students who took advantage of the state law that allows people to register on Election Day.

"Same-day registrations have been a problem in the past," said Naile. He cited the 2000 election, when some GOP candidates charged that hundreds of college students were not legitimate state residents when they voted.

"They're only using a college ID, and that doesn't mean that they're New
Hampshire residents," Naile said of the students.

Others accused Naile, and a few other poll-watchers with him, of targeting students who had been registered in the state for as long as two years. "It's petty and it's tacky," said Jennai Williams, a Dartmouth student who voted as a New Hampshire resident in 2000.

"The whole point was to frustrate students enough so as to discourage them from voting," said Amanda Bejamin-Smith, one of several hundred Dartmouth students who registered to vote yesterday.
While most students interviewed said they were not intimidated by the challenges, many said they were annoyed with resulting long waits at the polls. At least two students turned around after being told by a fellow student that the wait to vote would be half an hour.

Students had to first wait in line to receive ballots. After that, they would be challenged by Naile, who questioned their New Hampshire residency status, forcing them to stand in another line, where they would have to fill out an affidavit swearing that they were legal residents of New Hampshire. Once Hanover's town moderator signed the affidavits, students would stand in line again to cast ballots.

"It's just a way to delay the process," said Marilyn Black, Hanover's town moderator. "It's doubling the time it takes people to vote."

High voter turnout made the lines even longer. "I've never seen crowds like this for a mid-term," said Black, noting that by 6 p.m., nearly 4,000 of the roughly 5,200 voters on Hanover's checklist had voted. "I didn't find it intimidating. But it's a hassle," said Dartmouth student Priscalla Zee. She said she voted for Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Jeanne Shaheen because she supports abortion rights and because she did a better job of reaching out to students than did U.S. Rep. John Sununu.

The Attorney General's Office does not visit individual towns to review the validity of residency affidavits, but it will review complaints forwarded to it. "There is no policy of checking affidavits," said Bud Fitch, assistant attorney general. "If we receive information that we think warrants an investigation, we will conduct one." As of 4:30 p.m. yesterday, the state Attorney General's Office hadn't received any voter complaints from Hanover.

Democrats accused Naile of voter intimidation. "The local Republicans should be embarrassed that they let this happen on their turf," said Democrat Sharon Nordgren, deputy speaker of the House, who was campaigning in front of the high school.

"If I'm intimidating someone, why don't they charge me with it," said Naile. "That's kind of phony argument. I just want to see who's voting in my state." Naile said he has been a New Hampshire resident for 25 years.

William Conner, chairman of the Grafton County Republican Committee, defended the challenges. "There is strong concern (in university towns) about kids who aren't living in this state being able to register and vote the day of the polls," he said, adding, "renting a room from Dartmouth does not establish legal residence."

To vote in New Hampshire, a person must be a U.S. citizen, at least 18 years old, and must live in the state. Naile argued that students with licenses from other states are not legal New Hampshire residents. Fitch, though, said that isn't necessarily true. The Department of Motor Vehicles requires that people replace out-of-state licenses with New Hampshire licenses within 60 days of declaring residency. Not doing that doesn't mean a person is not a state resident, or disqualify them from voting, Fitch said. It just means he or she has run afoul of a state regulation.

"The fact that somebody has broken that law does not prevent them from being eligible to vote," Fitch said.

State law is unclear on what it takes to be "domiciled" in New Hampshire, meaning a legal resident of the state. "I can't give a three-word answer of what 'domicile' is," Fitch said -- but he tried anyway. "It's where the person lives most of the year."

"It's not clear," said Jesse Roisin, who lives in Croydon and is a member of the Dartmouth's Republican student group. "It needs to be cleared up by the 2004 elections."

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