New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu

Governor gets bill dropping in-state driver's license rule for New Hampshire college voters

It's now up to New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu to decide whether to do away with some registration requirements that students say amount to a poll tax.

The state Senate last week joined the state House – both controlled by Democrats – in voting to drop a requirement that collegiate voters have in-state driver's licenses and car registrations. Sununu is a Republican.

Opponents of those requirements, instituted last year when Republicans ran the state legislature, said they amount to a poll tax that discriminates against the state's students.

The rollback legislation has generated intense interest on the state's college campuses, where turnout could prove decisive in the nation's first Democratic presidential primary. Fresh off the Iowa caucuses the week before, a field that for now stands at two-dozen candidates is sure to shrink significantly after New Hampshire votes Feb. 11, and the turnout among collegiate voters could make the difference for some White House aspirants on the cusp of political survival.


College students, who are mostly from out of state, account for roughly 90,000 of the state's 1.2 million residents. (Even at the University of New Hampshire only half the students come from the Granite State.)

A sit-in protest by students at the Capitol last month resulted in 10 arrests.

State Sen. Tom Sherman, a Democrat who favors the rollback bill, told the New Hampshire Union Leader that registering a car and obtaining a driver's license can be expensive for a student. "That will turn some away from the polls," he said. "New Hampshire needs to encourage its students in civic participation and make them feel welcome."

But Republican state Sen. Regina Birdsell said repealing the requirement would actually create a two-tier system in which the laws would be applied differently to those who live in the state permanently and those there to attend college.

Sununu initially was concerned about last year's law, but he signed it after receiving an advisory opinion from the state Supreme Court saying it is constitutional.

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Stacey Abrams testified before a House Judiciary subcommittee on Tuesday.

Abrams calls for reviving federal oversight of some elections

Stacey Abrams, who gained national attention during her failed 2018 bid for the Georgia governorship, is urging Congress to restore federal oversight of elections in some states.

Had she won the extremely close contest, Abrams would now be the first black female governor in America. She and her fellow Democrats maintain the election was not fairly conducted in part because her Republican opponent, Brian Kemp, was secretary of state – and therefore Georgia's top elections official – at the time.

Abrams was the most prominent witness Tuesday at a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on civil rights and elections in the six years since the Supreme Court eviscerated the heart of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. In Shelby County v. Holder, the court struck down the part of the law requiring advance federal approval before any changes in voting laws or practices in parts of country with a history of voter discrimination. All of Georgia had been subjected to this so-called preclearance requirement, which the court ruled is now unconstitutionally outdated.

Calling for Congress to come up with a new system for preclearance that could withstand another such challenge, Abrams said that jurisdictions formerly covered by the law "have raced to reinstate or create new hurdles to voter registration, access to the ballot box, and ballot counting."

Abrams said a voter registration group she created in Georgia, which was active in her 2018 race, submitted thousands of forms to Kemp's office and soon discovered "artificial delays" in processing those registrations. The state's requirement that names on registrations exactly match records of other government agencies sidetracked thousands more.

Both practices had a greater impact on black citizens, she said, because they are more likely to register through third-party groups like the one she founded, Fair Fight Action.

And both, she said, would have been stopped in advance under preclearance.

Abrams also charged that Kemp improperly purged names from the voter rolls.

"By denying the real and present danger posed by those who see voters of color as a threat to be neutralized rather than as fellow citizens to be engaged," Abrams said, the six-year-old Supreme Court ruling "has destabilized the whole of our democratic experiment."

After the election, Abrams created Fair Fight Action to combat the tactics used against her. It has also sued the Georgia secretary of state and is asking the federal courts to revive preclearance for any election law changes in her state.

House Democratic leaders have written legislation creating a new set of rules for the Justice Department to use in determining which states must get such preclearance, and it has more than enough sponsors to pass. But the bill would almost certainly be shelved by the Republicans in charge in the Senate.

Big Picture

Dear presidential candidates: Use your manners

The National Institute for Civil Discourse has a message for the 20 Democratic presidential candidates who will participate in debates on Wednesday and Thursday nights: Remember first grade.

In other words, don't poke your neighbor, wait your turn, and if you can't say something nice, don't say anything.

Giphy

Seriously, the institute, which studies and promotes civility in political debate is reminding candidates of standards it developed in 2015 in advance of the last presidential election season.

They say that politicians living up to basic standards of civility, especially when they're on national television, is essential if the angry tribal nature of America discourse is ever going to ease. "Zingers and insults might get headlines, but it's leading to a culture of candidates who stand out by throwing punches and amplifying the polarization of our politics," said Keith Allred, the institute's executive director.

The guidelines for the candidates are:

  1. Be respectful of others in speech and behavior.
  2. Giphy

  3. Answer the question being asked by the moderator.
  4. Make ideas and feelings known without disrespecting others.
  5. Take responsibility for past and present behavior, speech and actions.
  6. Giphy

  7. Stand against incivility when faced with it.

The institute also developed guidelines for the moderators of the debates. (NBC and MSNBC are providing the ones for these debates.) They are:

  1. Address uncivil behavior by naming it and moderating the conversation to move toward more respectful dialogue.
  2. Enforce debate rules equally.
  3. Hold candidates accountable by challenging each candidate to speak the truth and act with integrity.
  4. Giphy

  5. Treat all candidates equally in regard to the complexity of questions and debate rules.
  6. Be respectful when interacting with candidates.
The NICD said its five-point plans for all the participants emerged from research on deliberation techniques, surveys to gauge citizens' definitions of what constitutes civil and uncivil language in public life, and conversations with elected officials and members of the press.