NHIOP Cares About Civic Engagement, and We Should Too

On September 10, exactly 100 years since New Hampshire ratified the 19th Amendment, the New Hampshire Institute of Politics invited author Elaine Weiss to speak about her book “The Woman’s Hour”. The historical non-fiction takes readers on a journey through the final battles of the 19th amendment, shining a light on the racism, political corporatism, and bigotry that made this movement one of the most awe-inspiring in terms of the unbeatable odds. 

Curiously enough, Weiss commented that her interest in the subject began when she started asking people how women won the right to vote, and they would tell her they’d never heard of Seneca Falls. Weiss suspected that there must have been more to an entire movement than one convention, leading her to study the fight for the 19th in great detail.

After describing the strenuous events that led to the ratification of the 19th, many audience members were left feeling hopeless because of the current climate on the topic of gender. When asked how Weiss felt about time slipping backward, she responded that “it gives me hope to see what this movement has gone through…they always picked themselves back up”.

She went on to say, “maybe that’s the comfort in knowing history is cyclical, it’s always happened, but you have to keep fighting”. Weiss’ conversation with the audience brought her to a very important topic: voter turnout. She emphasized the importance of using the vote that these women had fought so hard for. Not only using the vote but using it wisely; informing oneself on the issues, holding elected officials accountable, and caring about what is happening on the national, state, and local level. 

Civic Engagement is more than just simply participating in the political process, it is about engaging with your own community. Sure it may seem silly to think that just by voting alone someone can make a difference, but it is more than just the act of voting; it is what that act represents. 

To vote well, you have to educate yourself about what is going on in the world around you. Not just about the issues that affect you, but about the issues that affect us all. By engaging with your community you hear a story that you otherwise would not have heard. 

Voting should never be only about you. In fact, that would be impossible. Through voting, we all have the ability to make a change in our communities, in avenues that we may never have had exposure to. You could be a non-disabled person voting on increasing accessibility. You could have no experience with the armed forces voting on veteran services. You could be a man voting on anything to do with women’s reproductive rights.

In order to vote well you need to be able to view life from multiple different lenses. Requiring direct engagement with the people in your community. That engagement with the diversity present in our communities can only serve to enrich ourselves, and our political process. 

The Kevin B. Harrington Student Ambassador program at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics has been rolling out numerous programs focused on Civic Engagement for Constitution Month. This is a month-long celebration of the anniversary of the signing of the constitution in September of 1787.

In addition to “The Woman’s Hour”, the Civic Engagement Committee has hosted a lecture on the importance of Civic Engagement and Civility with Judd Gregg and Joe McQuaid, and co-programmed with Campus Ministry for a 9/11 memorial.

One of the chairs of the committee, Brendan Flaherty ‘21, commented that they are “attempting to engage students across campus in some new and exciting ways”. One of these initiatives is called “Pickup and Politics” which is a co-sponsored program with Green Team where attendees will spend an afternoon cleaning campus while discussing important environmental issues. 

Providing opportunities for the campus to come together to discuss the world we live in is an essential part of cultivating a community of respect. Co-Chair Melanie Fey ‘20 commented that she “plans every event with the hopes of connecting with as many students as possible”. She went on to say that “it is crucial that we take the time to educate and engage these topics because one day our generation will be the ones elected into office”. 

In addition to the events already planned, the Civic Engagement Committee of the Kevin B. Harrington Student Ambassadors is hosting National Voter Registration Day on Alumni Quad, Tuesday, September 24th from 11:30-1:30. There will be free Ben and Jerry’s with volunteers ready to register other students to vote, or request absentee ballots from their home states.

Stagnone Opposes Efforts to Strip Students of Right to Vote in NH

Perhaps our greatest expectation of higher education should be that our colleges help to shape citizens who are actively and purposefully engaged in the communities which they choose to be a part of throughout their lives. The institutions of higher learning here in New Hampshire are rather exceptional at this. As a student at Saint Anselm, I have been proud to tell friends and family that my college is ranked #5 in the nation for community service by The Princeton Review, and that each year, more than 900 Saint A’s students provide over 18,000 hours of service in the Manchester area. Our college likewise prides itself on being a hub for political activity, and while frequent events and debates on campus are highly attended, myself and many of my peers have gone above and beyond to volunteer on local campaigns, intern in constituent services for New Hampshire’s elected officials, and get involved in activism.

A number of out-of-state college students around New Hampshire have off-campus jobs and internships. Students live in the state for at least nine months out of the year, where they shop, dine, rent apartments, and otherwise contribute to the economy. They have collectively donated tens of thousands of hours volunteering in New Hampshire’s schools, hospitals, prisons, youth programs, and nursing homes. Out-of-state college students are even counted in the state’s census, which forms the basis for federal aid and the makeup of voting districts. The point I wish to make is that New Hampshire’s college students are a part of the communities surrounding their schools in just about every way possible, and their contributions to these communities are extremely meaningful. It is only reasonable that they be allowed to vote here, and as was established in Symm v. United States (1979), it is their constitutional right.

Some of New Hampshire’s lawmakers wish to exclude these students from having a voice their communities. Recently, the New Hampshire Senate voted to pass HB 1264, a bill that would change voting eligibility standards in the state. While HB 1264 only makes a small change in language to existing law, this change would mean that out-of-state college students voting in New Hampshire would have sixty days to become New Hampshire residents and pay the associated fees, or else face misdemeanor charges. Purchasing a New Hampshire driver’s license costs $50, and additional state and municipal fees could end up totaling hundreds of dollars. In a time when we should be doing all that we can to attract passionate young people to our state and keep them here, lawmakers are instead asking them to pay a fee– a poll tax– to participate in our democracy. They are telling young adults who live, study, work, volunteer, and set an example of civic engagement in our communities that their voices are not welcome.

HB 1264 comes in the wake of other similar bills, promoted by lawmakers who argue that we need to restore integrity to New Hampshire’s voting system and crack down on perceived voter fraud by creating stricter eligibility requirements. However, evidence shows that voter fraud in New Hampshire and across the country is extremely rare. Not to mention, there is nothing fraudulent whatsoever about college students voting in the state they live in for the majority of the year. The way I see it, our lawmakers are smart enough to understand that voter fraud is not a pressing issue in New Hampshire. They are also smart enough to be aware of the demographics that are more or less likely to vote for a particular party, and this is why they are targeting college students, who are often perceived as being more liberal. HB 1264 is not about election integrity but rather is an effort to intentionally shape a constituency to benefit the Republican Party.

Rather than attacking their voting rights, we should be encouraging civic engagement among college students and acknowledging with gratitude the immense value that they bring to our New Hampshire communities. Governor Chris Sununu has promised to veto any bill that would infringe upon college student’s voting rights, and students across New Hampshire will be waiting with expectations that he keeps his word.

Photo taken from Market Watch.

Saint Anselm Students Could Lose Right to Vote from School

Ashley Motta ’17 (left), Sarah King ’18 (center), and Garrett Meyer ’18 (right) after voting in Goffstown in the 2016 New Hampshire presidential primary.

The New Hampshire House of Representatives recently voted to pass HB 1264, a bill that would change the eligibility standards for voting in New Hampshire. The bill is expected to pass the Senate, and at that point, it will be up to the governor to determine whether or not the legislation becomes law. Sununu’s record on voting rights for college students is mixed, and there is concern among Democrats and college students that he will sign the legislation. Sununu has remained opposed to HB 372, a similar bill that would have restricted college students’ access to voting.

The bill that most recently passed by the House of Representatives makes a four-word change to the voting requirements in New Hampshire. The four words are “for the indefinite future.” Without these words, Democratic legislators say that college students could have their right to vote where they go to school threatened. College students who choose to still vote in New Hampshire would then have about two months to become New Hampshire residents or face criminal charges.

Voting where one goes to school is a constitutional right. In Symm v. United States (1979), the United States Supreme Court affirmed a student’s right to register and vote in the town they go to school. However, state-by-state efforts to disenfranchise students have persisted.

Democratic legislators, including state senator Donna Soucy, an alum of Saint Anselm College, argue that the legislation is a direct affront to college students. However, their opposition is deeper than that. Senators Soucy and Jeff Woodburn argue that the legislation would make New Hampshire less appealing to younger residents, hurting the state’s economy.

New Hampshire College Democrats President Olivia Teixeira ’20 spoke passionately against HB 1264. In opposing the legislation, she tied the issue of voting rights with core tenets of Saint Anselm’s Benedictine values. “Especially here at Saint Anselm,” she said, “we are dedicated to serving our surrounding community and leaving it better than when we came, and having a part in electing local legislators for the area is no different.”

Saint Anselm students are eligible to vote in Goffstown municipal elections in addition to the state and federal races that get more attention. In the past municipal race in Goffstown, one Saint Anselm alum, Joe Alexander ’18, won an election to the Goffstown Budget Committee.

Teixeira, who also serves as the president of the Saint Anselm College chapter of the College Democrats, said she was impressed with how much students on campus have been involved with the issue. “Over the past few months, I have seen the true power of student voices speaking out against these bills in the State House and fighting for their right to vote in a place that in every other sense has been accepted as our home,” Teixeira said.

Saint Anselm students have been active voters in the area for years. In the 2016 election, various campus clubs organized rides to the polls for students – a service that both Democrats and Republicans took advantage of. However, Tim Madsen ’19, the president of the Saint Anselm College Republicans, declined to comment on the legislation.

Vice President of the Saint Anselm College Democrats Haley Bragdon-Clements ’21 stressed that the issue of voting rights is not, in her mind, a partisan issue. “When the right for students to vote comes under attack it is our job to come together in opposition of such bills. This should not be a partisan issue as all of us are at risk of losing our voice,” she explained. Bragdon-Clements went on, “I would love for the College Democrats to work with the College Republicans. This is a time where we can come together and fight for something that is absolutely essential to our democracy, our right to vote.”

Whether or not the campus Republicans join the campus Democrats in opposing HB 1264 and similar measures, it will ultimately be Governor Sununu’s decision if the bill passes the Senate as expected. Sununu has maintained a general opposition to disenfranchising students but has avoided commenting specifically on whether or not he will veto HB 1264 if it gets to his desk. Without a definitive statement from the governor, the fate of students’ access to voting in New Hampshire remains uncertain.

Cover image taken from Granite State Progress; in-text photo courtesy of Sarah King ’18.