The People, No

Repressing the ballot in the Granite State

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Tanya Eden became homeless last year. Unable to afford health insurance because she made slightly more than the limit for Medicaid, Eden said, she had to choose between rent and paying $850 for her son Trevor Partridge’s medication. For nine years, Partridge, twenty-three, has suffered from aplastic anemia, a rare and life-threatening bone marrow disease.

In other words, it was no choice at all. “I didn’t pay rent. We got booted out,” Eden, forty-seven, stocky and spirited, recounted as she sat in the main room of a resource center for the homeless in Concord, New Hampshire. “I’m not gonna let my son die.”

When Eden showed up to vote at a nearby polling place last November, she presented documents showing a post office box in her name. But a clerk turned her away, telling her she needed to show a physical address.

Partridge had a similar experience. He said someone at his polling place near Laconia recognized him and told the clerk that he’d been in trouble with the law. Partridge said he has no felonies on his record. (In any case, New Hampshire allows anyone not currently incarcerated to vote—though no one I spoke with about voting there seemed to know that.) But the vague testimony of a third party was enough for him to be disenfranchised, too.

Eden’s friend Heather Sweeney didn’t even try to vote. Sweeney’s a recovering heroin addict who last year lost two fingers on one hand after accidentally hitting an artery, and she has two felonies on her record—the second for stealing food while homeless two years ago. She, too, wrongly thought she was barred from voting as an ex-felon, though she’d like to make her voice heard.

“I feel like my opinion matters out there,” said Sweeney, thirty-eight, who smiles easily, despite everything. “For me to be able to go out and vote and have a say in it, I think makes a big difference.”

In case it’s not clear: it’s already a lot more difficult for people like Eden and Partridge and Sweeney to vote than it is for your average New Hampshire resident. But it’s about to get harder still.

If states are the laboratories of democracy,
New Hampshire is serving
as a testing ground
for the party’s Trump-era strategy on voting.

A new Republican-backed state law known as SB 3 tightens the rules for people who register and vote on the same day—about 11 percent of all New Hampshire voters last November. These would-be voters can be hit with a $5,000 fine if they vote and can’t show documentary proof of where they live. Those, like Eden, who lack a stable address are most at risk, though they’re not the only ones.

Eden said she often has to stay in the hospital because of heart problems. That, combined with her son’s health troubles, makes her wary of betting $5,000 she doesn’t have on her ability to get acceptable proof of residence to election officials in time—if she even could obtain that proof at all.

Sweeney said she wouldn’t risk it, either. The only proof of residence she has is for her fiancé’s place, which she moved out of two weeks ago. When I spoke to her in May, she was couch-surfing between her cousin’s and her mom’s homes.

“If I had the chance of something like [a $5,000 fine] happening, that would scare me,” said Sweeney. “I don’t think a lot of people would do it.”

Of course, most of the people who are likely to have trouble voting as a result of SB 3—the homeless, people who move a lot, students, victims of domestic violence—tend to vote Democratic. In other words, the law is more than a misguided effort to tighten the rules. Rather, it’s the latest chapter of a much broader story in which Republican-controlled states across the country have instituted extreme restrictions on the franchise that target Democratic-leaning constituencies.

Many of these laws were passed in the first few years of this decade, after Republicans won full control of a slew of state governments in 2010. Among the best known and most regressive are Texas and Wisconsin’s strict ID laws, and North Carolina’s multi-pronged voting law. This wave of voter suppression was given a major boost by the Supreme Court in 2013. In Shelby County v. Holder, the court invalidated the most effective plank of the Voting Rights Act, which had required states with histories of racial discrimination in voting—mostly in the South—to get any changes to election laws pre-approved by the federal government. From now on, those changes could be challenged only through litigation after the fact, which often isn’t resolved until after an election has taken place. Unlike most other Western democracies, the United States has no uniform federal standards for voting, and the weakening of the Voting Rights Act has given state political leaders new license to make voting harder without interference from Washington—though plenty of states not affected by the Shelby verdict have also gotten in on the act. All in all, over the last decade, twenty-five states—the vast majority Republican-controlled—have approved significant voting restrictions.

This Republican attack on voting probably wasn’t responsible for electing President Trump, though it did likely hand him Wisconsin. But it’s been central to the strikingly successful Republican plan to somehow hold on to power—both in Washington and the states—despite adverse demographic winds and an epically unpopular policy agenda. And, partisan politics aside, it has threatened to make the act of voting once again a privilege given to those deemed responsible enough to exercise it, rather than an unquestioned right of citizenship.

Handcuffing the Franchise

Despite these trends, there was some cause to hope that, by the end of Barack Obama’s presidency, the voter suppression wave might have crested. Many of the worst laws from earlier in the decade had been challenged in court as racially discriminatory. Several, like North Carolina’s, were struck down while others were significantly weakened, as in Texas. In 2015 and 2016, state legislatures considered more bills to expand access to voting than to restrict it.

But this respite may prove short lived. The Trump era has given the voter suppression movement a shot in the arm—and a prominent new institutional platform. A day before I met Sweeney and other marginalized non-voters in Concord, the White House announced a commission on voter fraud, charged with studying measures that enhance or undermine “confidence in the voting processes.” The panel’s vice chair and apparent driving force is Kansas secretary of state Kris Kobach, perhaps the nation’s single most important figure in pushing restrictive voting laws. In Kansas, he helped put in place a harsh new law mandating that people registering to vote show documentary proof of citizenship—and that has had major holes punched in it by the courts, amid an ongoing series of challenges led by the ACLU. Some 44 percent of the voters blocked from registering under the law are under the age of thirty.

Like so many Trump policy initiatives, the crusade against voter fraud is rooted in the president’s own delusions. Throughout the 2016 campaign, Trump made the myth of widespread voter fraud an unlikely centerpiece of his political pitch. Voting rights advocates and independent election experts have almost universally condemned the commission as an effort to lay the groundwork for new state or even federal laws targeting voters. One fear is that, under Kobach’s direction, the panel will recommend at least the partial repeal of the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, known as the Motor Voter law, that require states to make voter registration as easy as possible.

Some states haven’t seemed to need any encouragement from Washington. In April, Iowa passed a voter ID law, which also cut early voting and made same-day registration more difficult. Around the same time, Texas, Arkansas, and North Dakota, whose earlier ID laws had been blocked by courts, approved new ones. Texas also passed a separate law eliminating straight-ticket voting, which allows voters to select all of a party’s candidates by pressing one button, and whose use appears to be on the rise among the state’s racial minorities. North Carolina Republicans have vowed to pass a new voter ID measure after the Supreme Court declined to revive its law. In a sign of the times, one Republican congressman from Indiana even introduced a nationwide voter ID bill.

But perhaps none of the new laws offers a more perfect case study than does New Hampshire’s in how false rhetoric from the top—and the extraordinary atmosphere of fear and paranoia around voting that Trump and his allies have set out to create—can grease the skids for a crackdown on access to the ballot.

Legislating an Urban Legend

As candidate, president-elect, and president, Trump has ceaselessly promoted the false idea that illegal voting is widespread. He’s said at different times that people are voting five, ten, or fifteen times. He’s urged his supporters to “watch” the voting in “certain areas” to make sure nothing funny happens. “This voting system is out of control,” he declared last year. After the election, he tweeted that he’d have won the popular vote “if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally,” later singling out New Hampshire, Virginia, and California as sites of “serious voter fraud.” There is zero evidence that fraud on anything like that scale has ever occurred in any state.

Last October, Chris Sununu, the Republican nominee for governor of New Hampshire honed a local version of Trump’s strategy. “There’s no doubt there’s election fraud here,” Sununu told a popular conservative radio host. “We have same-day voter registration, and to be honest, when Massachusetts elections are not very close, they’re busing them in all over the place.” After winning the election, Sununu announced that he intended to scrap same-day voter registration, which allows people to register and vote in one trip to the polls. He suggested it was leading to “drive-by voting” by non-residents, though he offered no evidence.

In February, Trump eagerly echoed Sununu’s claims. According to Politico, he told a private meeting of senators that both he and Kelly Ayotte, the Republican senator who narrowly lost her re-election bid last year, would have won New Hampshire were it not for thousands of illegal votes from Massachusetts residents.

When political leaders make such claims, their followers tend to believe them. In March, one New Hampshire Trump voter told a CNN panel he saw “busloads of people” coming into the state to vote illegally, and another said he saw cars with out-of-state plates full of people coming in to vote. When challenged, both acknowledged they could be mistaken. The local media played along, too. “Hundreds could be investigated in NH for voter fraud during 2016 election,” one New Hampshire news outlet warned in March.

Meanwhile, Sununu appeared to have thought better of his plan to kill off same-day voter registration. New Hampshire is one of six states that is exempt from the federal Motor Voter law, because it offers same-day registration. Scrapping same-day registration would likely make New Hampshire subject to Motor Voter, which would mean that the federal government would have a say in how New Hampshire sets up its voter registration system. And the “Live Free or Die” state’s libertarian political culture has little tolerance for meddling from Washington.

So Republicans settled on a stealthier plan. In January, state senator Regina Birdsell introduced a bill that preserved same-day registration, but tightened the rules around it in a way that will reduce its use. By July, SB 3 had won passage in both chambers of the state legislature, and Sununu had signed it into law. It requires anyone registering to vote within thirty days of the election, including same-day registrants, not only to supply proof of their current address, but also to show that they’ve committed a “verifiable act” that indicates they plan to remain there. “Proof would be that you’ve bought a home or you’ve enrolled your children in a public school in the district, for instance,” Birdsell has suggested, as if these are things everyone does.

Those who don’t show such proof must read, fill out, and sign a lengthy and confusing form affirming that they live where they say they do—then present proof of residence within ten days (thirty days in places where the clerk’s office is rarely open), or risk a $5,000 fine.

The goal, Birdsell argues, is to crack down on voting by out-of-state residents who might be in New Hampshire temporarily—campaign workers and volunteers are often mentioned—but shouldn’t be counted as residents for voting purposes, Echoing Sununu, she claimed in a February interview with WMUR, a local TV station, that constituents had complained to her about caravans of cars with Massachusetts plates rolling into polling sites on Election Day in 2010 and 2012.

“Were they people who had just moved in? I don’t know,” Birdsell said. “But I know this is what my constituents want.”

But for all the talk-radio-style furor over the specter of fraudulent voting in New Hampshire, not a single non-resident has been found to have voted last November. Indeed, SB 3’s backers haven’t been able to point to a clear case of an illegal vote in any election that the law might have thwarted. When I asked Birdsell for such cases, she sent me a list of ten votes said to be illegal dating back two decades. A few, like a Trump supporter who voted last year in place of her deceased husband, had literally nothing to do with SB 3, and the list Birdsell provided didn’t include enough information to say for sure about the others. When I followed up with Birdsell for more details, and also asked for the source for her list, the senator didn’t respond.

Secretary of Stasis

How does legislation addressing a manifest nonissue like out-of-state voter fraud gain serious traction? In New Hampshire’s case, it was thanks in part to support from the state’s influential secretary of state, Bill Gardner, who for years has been pushing to tighten residency requirements for voting.

Gardner’s clout comes not just from his longevity—he’s been in office since 1976, making him the longest tenured top state election official in the country. It’s also because he’s seen as the man who has preserved New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary, with all the money, visibility, and political influence it brings. When other states over the last decade have tried to jump ahead of New Hampshire, Gardner has lined up backers in both major parties to stop them.

Gardner doesn’t make many public appearances these days, and his office doesn’t even have an official press contact. But every four years, it seems, he’s the subject of new, laudatory profiles by national political reporters covering the primary, portraying him as a kind of Solomonic figure—a wise and good overseer of elections, and the last of a fading breed of civic-minded public servants.

Gardner is nominally a Democrat. But he doesn’t hold elected office; in New Hampshire, the secretary of state is appointed by the state legislature, which more often than not has been controlled by the GOP. “He has been a Democratic secretary of state in a Republican-dominated system for forty years because the Republican majority has been happy with the things he does, O.K.?” explained Paul Twomey, a veteran New Hampshire Democratic election lawyer.

For the past decade, Gardner’s policy calls have often been in sync with the legislature’s Republican majority. Last year, for example, Gardner eagerly implemented a Republican-backed bill that entered New Hampshire into Crosscheck, a controversial program run by Kobach, the Trump voter fraud commission vice chair. Crosscheck is designed to flag voters registered in multiple states, but voting rights advocates say the way it’s used by states creates the chance of mistakes that can disenfranchise eligible voters. For instance, some states have used it to generate lists that have failed to match middle names, causing voters to be wrongly included. (One data expert, speaking to Rolling Stone last year, called Crosscheck’s methodology “childish.” “God forbid your name is Garcia,” he said, “and your first name is Joseph or Jose. You’re probably suspected of voting in twenty-seven states.”)

Gardner also was warning about what he called “drive-by voting” at least two years before Sununu began throwing the term around last fall. Several times, Gardner has told the same story to illustrate the supposed problem—about an AmeriCorps volunteer he met at the polls in 2008 who said she planned to go back to Washington state a few weeks after the election. Gardner says he dissuaded her from voting. Given his record, it’s no surprise that as of mid-June, Gardner was one of only four Democrats named to Trump’s voter fraud commission—helping give the panel a thin veneer of bipartisanship.

© Joshua Fetzer

The Phantom Menace

Gardner’s office has explained his support for voting restrictions in part by arguing that they’re needed to address the perception of fraud—regardless of whether such fraud can be shown to actually exist. “Voter perception is as important as the reality in the elections,” Dave Scanlan, Gardner’s deputy and the closest thing he has to a spokesman, said in March. “People, voters, have to have confidence that their elections are operating properly, fairly, with integrity. And there is a fairly high level of lack of confidence in the elections nationwide.”

This rhetorical strategy is increasingly popular among backers of strict voting law. “It’s true that there isn’t widespread voter fraud,” Iowa state GOP Rep. Ken Rizer, who sponsored his state’s ID law, told the New York Times earlier this year. “But there is a perception that the system can be cheated. That’s one of the reasons for doing this.”

In an effort to tamp down opposition, supporters of SB 3 have also described the law as nothing more than a common-sense effort to clarify the language around residency in the state. “It’s simply tightening up the definition of domicile,” Sununu said in March. “We’re simply clearing up the definitions that are very ambiguous.”

In fact, the form that people who lack proof of residence have to sign and swear they understand is anything but clarifying. It includes sentences like this:

“I understand that to make the address I have entered above my domicile for voting I must have an intent to make this the one place from which I participate in democratic self-government and must have acted to carry out that intent.”

And:

“By placing my initials next to this paragraph, I am acknowledging that I have not presented evidence of actions carrying out my intent to be domiciled at this address, that I understand that I must mail or personally present to the clerk’s office evidence of actions carrying out my intent within ten days following the election (or 30 days in towns where the clerk’s office is open fewer than 20 hours weekly) and that I have received the document produced by the secretary of state that describes the items that may be used as evidence of a verifiable action that establishes domicile.”

Leave aside for a moment the obvious fact that people like Eden and Sweeney would struggle to get proof of residence and can’t remotely afford to risk the fine.

The more ambitious agenda here is to gradually transform the right to vote into a kind of status marker.

Twomey, the Democratic election lawyer, said perhaps a bigger problem is the delays the form will cause at polling places where same-day registration is popular. There’s plenty of evidence that long lines reduce turnout by leading some would-be voters to give up in frustration.

“It took me four and a half minutes to read it on my fourth time through, where I was not trying to understand it, just trying to mentally say the words to myself,” Twomey told me in a coffee shop near the state capitol in Concord, comparing the form to the notorious literacy tests that disenfranchised black voters in the Jim Crow South. “There are three to four thousand people in say, Durham, that same-day register. . . If you add five minutes on to every same-day registration, people are going to turn away very quickly.”

The law also directs election officials to send “municipal officers” to knock on the doors of voters who didn’t follow up with proof of residence, in order to verify their address. Who are these officers, exactly? “It could be anybody, including police,” said Twomey. “That’s scary to people: If I vote, the government’s gonna come to my door.”

The real intent of SB 3 seems clear: to curb same-day voter registration, and hence Democratic turnout, in the Granite State. But cutting voting among the homeless and others with unstable living situations only gets Republicans so far, since those populations already tend not to vote at high rates. The more important goal—one with real potential to swing some elections—is to suppress the student vote.

Young and In the Way

Indeed, many of the recent Republican voter suppression measures share a fear of the youth vote. Younger voters were pivotal to the short-lived Obama coalition—and they helped deal a major setback to Britain’s Tory government in the June election. Even in New Hampshire, SB 3 is just the latest effort to make it harder for college students to vote.

Ever since eighteen- to twenty-year-old voters won the franchise in 1971 with the ratification of the Twenty-sixth Amendment to the Constitution, states have tried to discourage or suppress the student vote. At times, opponents of student voting rights have argued straight out that students aren’t mature enough to vote responsibly. More often, they’ve claimed students aren’t really legitimate members of the communities where they go to school.

Race, also, has sometimes been a factor—as in many other brands of American voter suppression. In the early 1970s, the registrar of Waller County, Texas, home to the historically black university Prairie View A&M, began making students answer questions about their employment status, property ownership, and other issues (“do you belong to a church, club, or some Waller County organization other than college related?”) before they could register. In 1979, in a landmark win for student voting rights, the Supreme Court ruled the practice unconstitutional.

But that ruling didn’t stop states and counties from trying to make it harder for students to vote. As late as 2008, Waller County acknowledged in a settlement with the federal government that it had illegally tried to stop students from registering. (And just last year, Prairie View students waited over three hours to vote, a recent report found.) The Texas voter ID law, passed in 2011, accepts a handgun license but not a student ID, even one from the state-run University of Texas. North Carolina’s 2013 voter suppression bill originally contained a provision—ditched after an outcry—that would have used the tax code to penalize the families of students who voted where they went to school instead of where their parents lived.

New Hampshire has always been on the vanguard of these efforts to bust the youth vote. The state has long defined “resident” to mean someone who intends to stay indefinitely—thereby excluding many students. In 1976, to comply with the Twenty-sixth Amendment, New Hampshire created a distinction between a resident and a person “domiciled” in the state—two terms that state law had previously employed interchangeably. From now on, said state lawmakers, voters only had to be domiciled in New Hampshire—meaning they were making their life there at the current time. But for other civic matters, like auto registration, the state continued to require that people be residents, with its stricter definition of intending to stay indefinitely.

That was a situation ripe for confusion. According to Twomey, for decades it was common in New Hampshire for leaflets to appear under dorm-room doors the day before an election warning that you could be arrested for voting if you hadn’t registered your car in the state. It wasn’t until 2004, according to Twomey, that the courts and state officials, pressed by Democrats, finally made clear that the rules for motor vehicle registration aren’t the same as the rules for voting.

In the 2000 presidential election, fewer than 24,000 people in New Hampshire’s four major college towns—Durham, Hanover, Keene, and Plymouth—cast a ballot. By last year, that had jumped to nearly 34,000, outpacing the growth in the state’s electorate as a whole. Along with an influx of new residents attracted by the state’s burgeoning tech sector, the growth in student voting has been enough to turn the traditionally Republican state purple, then blue-ish. Since 2004, Democrats have won ten out of the thirteen races for president, governor, or U.S. Senate.

These new student voters were more likely than others to use same-day registration. Because students tend to move from year to year, being able to register and vote all in one trip to the polls is crucial; otherwise, they have to contend with successive yearly re-registrations. Overall, about 11 percent of New Hampshire voters in the last presidential election—more than 83,000 people—used same-day registration, but in the state’s major college towns, the rate was much higher: in both Durham, where the University of New Hampshire (UNH) campus sits, and Plymouth, home to Plymouth State, it was more than 30 percent.

The 2016 election underscored a basic reality
of American politics:
the smaller the electorate,
the better Republicans do.

It was 21 percent in Keene (Keene State), 16 percent in Hanover (Dartmouth College), and more than 15 percent in Dover, where many UNH students live off campus. Those towns are crucial Democratic strongholds: Hillary Clinton won between 56 and 84 percent of the vote in the college towns, and together they accounted for nearly 10 percent of her total votes.

Statewide elections tend to turn on small margins in New Hampshire. Clinton won the state by 2,736 votes—a little more than the size of Dartmouth’s freshman class—and Ayotte lost her re-election bid by just over a thousand votes. The GOP game-plan, then, is pretty obvious: Find a way to restrict same-day registration and student voting so that you reduce the Democratic margin by a few hundred votes or more in each of those college towns. Thus, the GOP can give itself a chance to maintain control of an increasingly Democratic state.

SB 3 isn’t the first time they’ve tried. In 2011, Republicans, backed by Gardner, introduced a bill requiring that anyone registering to vote swear that they meet the state’s residency requirements, including registering their car in New Hampshire. Essentially, it was an attempt to undo the residency/domicile distinction the state had grudgingly created back in the 1970s.

William O’Brien, at the time the House Speaker, explained in a speech to a Tea Party group who the bill’s target was. “They go into these general elections, they’ll have nine hundred same-day registrations, which are the kids coming out of the schools and basically doing what I did when I was a kid, which is voting as a liberal,” said O’Brien. “That’s what kids do. They don’t have life experience, and they just vote their feelings and they’re taking away the towns’ ability to govern themselves. It’s not fair.” (Twomey has a custom-made T-shirt featuring O’Brien’s quote, to serve as a reminder of how his opponents think—or just because it’s funny.)

“It’s actually very hard to demonstrate that you live in a physical dorm-room on campus,” Charlotte Blatt, the president of the Dartmouth College Democrats, told me. “You need to, like, request a bunch of information from the Office of Residential Life, which most people don’t know how to do. Most people also don’t know that you can do that. It’s pretty hard to get a formal piece of paper to say, I live in X dorm-room.”

Republicans overrode a veto by the Democratic governor to pass the bill into law. But it was quickly blocked by a court and ultimately struck down in 2014, in a ruling making clear that it’s unconstitutional to link car registration to voting.

However, the opponents of student voting in New Hampshire haven’t given up. If you log onto the secretary of state’s website, you come across a page titled “Voting as a college student in New Hampshire,” as if there are special rules for such voters. It explains that for voting purposes, a domicile is where a person “manifests an intent to maintain a single continuous presence for domestic, social, and civil purposes relevant to participating in democratic self-government.” A student can vote in New Hampshire, it continues, “if such student’s claim of domicile otherwise meets the requirements of the paragraph above.” Any move by out-of-state students to register in New Hampshire, it warns, “may impact other things,” including health and car insurance, taxes, and scholarship status. It’s not exactly Rock the Vote.

SB 3, then, is the New Hampshire conservative political class’s latest attempt to solve the problem of student voting. Birdsell, the bill’s sponsor, even offered a specific warning to New Hampshire students who came to school from out of state—one that seemed designed to make them think twice about exercising their rights, in case the $5,000 potential fine hadn’t already deterred them. Such students “must remember that we entered into the Crosscheck program,” Birdsell said in February. “If they are registered in another state, they need to be careful and switch their registration to New Hampshire.”

In May, a month or so before SB 3’s final passage, I visited the UNH campus in Durham, and spoke with Isabella Arms, who voted last November as a freshman. But she’s now a sophomore living in a different dorm—which means that to vote again, she’ll need to show proof of residence, which she doesn’t have.

“I guess I could ask my hall director for a letter,” Arms, nineteen, said as she sat outside the campus library. “But I doubt at this point other people would know to ask.”

Arms is active with the college Democrats, so she’s more plugged in to politics than most students. “I know for a fact that most of my friends would get to the polling place, and if they told them that they would possibly face a $5,000 fine, they’d walk right back out,” she said.

Olivia Olbrych, a twenty-year-old college junior, has been registered in New Hampshire for more than a year since coming to UNH from Rhode Island. But she said she’s thinking of moving off campus to Dover, meaning she’d need to re-register, too. And she didn’t sound confident about being able to come up with proof of her new address, which might deter her from trying to vote. “I don’t have $5,000 to pay a fine,” Olbrych said. “It’s really intimidating.”

Still, beneath the tangle of issues like definitions of domicile and proof of residency, it’s hard not to feel that the constant efforts to make it harder for certain groups to vote convey something larger: a particular, insular vision of the state that serves the interests of those in power, and perpetuates itself by alienating those not included in it. New Hampshire, after all, has the second oldest population in the country, and Republicans appear to like it that way.

In many ways, then, SB 3 reflects a set of political dynamics that are specific to New Hampshire: the misplaced concern about out-of-state voters; the availability of same-day registration; the razor-thin election margins. Yet it’s also at the vanguard of a much broader movement.

The 2016 election underscored a basic reality of American politics: the smaller the electorate, the better Republicans do. That means any GOP strategy for holding on to power has to include a plan to keep Democratic voters from the polls. And so, if states are the laboratories of democracy, New Hampshire is serving as a testing ground for the party’s Trump-era strategy on voting, set to be formally laid out by Kobach’s voter fraud commission. The specifics might look different in each state, but the basic idea will be the same: gin up unfounded fears about illegal voting to justify laws that do more than simply restrict access to the franchise. The more ambitious agenda here is to gradually transform the right to vote into a kind of status marker of membership in a homogenous and right-thinking community—as the franchise has been at previous, more exclusionary intervals in our democratic past.

And if those excluded from that community—students, the homeless, the poor, whoever—feel like they don’t belong, so much the better. “Bills like SB 3 send the message that we’re not welcome here,” said Olbrych. “Why would we want to come here in the first place if they’re not going to let us participate? And if we can’t participate during our time here why would we want to stay?”

Zachary Roth is the author of The Great Suppression: Voting Rights, Corporate Cash, & the Conservative Assault on Democracy.

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