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Spencer Rendahl: Voting Rights

My 11-year-old daughter, disenchanted with American politics, wants to ditch her New Hampshire home and move to Sweden. This isn’t an entirely an idle threat; her last name, Rendahl, means “Valley of the Reindeer” in Swedish. Family lore has it that her great-grandfather – for whom her younger brother is named — immigrated to the United States a century ago after being kicked out of the Swedish Lutheran Church.

I can’t blame her for wanting to enjoy Sen. Bernie Sanders’ democratic socialist dream of universal healthcare and higher education. But I’ve told her if she actually wants to make real change, she ought to stay put.

That’s because every Granite State vote really does matter. In 2000, George W. Bush won the state by just over 7000 votes – and with New Hampshire’s four electoral votes, the White House. This year, Hillary Clinton won the state by fewer than 3,000. It didn’t turn the election, but it could have, which is why candidates visit here so often. Democratic Governor Maggie Hassan became Senator-elect Maggie Hassan after winning by just over 1000 votes.

When I first registered to vote in New Hampshire as a college student in 1992, I had to sign a residency form, and then on voting day received a ballot simply by giving my name and address. Now, thanks to voter ID laws, to receive my ballot I have to show my driver’s license.

Our new governor-elect, Republican Chris Sununu, has vowed to end same-day registration and enact stricter residency laws. He argues that newer registrants “dilute” the votes of permanent residents.

NHPR: New Hampshire Governor-Elect Says He Wants To End Same-Day Voter Registration

Legal writer Jeffrey Toobin observes that the increasing number of ID and residency requirements do make voting more burdensome — and effectively suppress the vote of minorities and the poor.

A Wisconsin federal court has ruled that three hundred thousand registered voters lacked newly necessary ID to vote. And a federal appeals court judge notes that selective closings of polling places in North Carolina targeted African Americans “with almost surgical precision.”

In fact, Toobin writes that the North Carolina Republican Party issued a press release “boasting about how its efforts drove down African-American turnout in this election.”

So I tell my daughter if she really wants to make a difference, she should stay right here and fight to make sure her vote – and every vote – counts.

Suzanne Spencer Rendahl is a former journalist whose work has appeared in publications including the Boston Globe. She lives with her husband and two children in Plainfield, NH.
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