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Judge seeks more info before acting on lawsuit over New Hampshire voter residency law

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U.S. District Judge Joseph Laplante has ordered another hearing on a Republican-backed law that changes the voter-residency qualifications in New Hampshire.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit earlier this year on behalf of two Dartmouth College students who claim the law, HB 1264, unduly burdens them by requiring they get a state driver’s license at a cost of about $50.

In defense of the law, the attorneys for the state argue that HB 1264 is intended to bring New Hampshire’s residency definition in line with that of other states.

The New Hampshire Supreme Court, in a 3-2 vote, has already declared HB 1264 constitutional, with the majority saying it would not create an undue burden on new residents.

During last week’s hearing, Judge Laplante cited unresolved factual questions about how HB 1264 will work when put into practice, and said it would be advisable for the state court to address those issues prior to gauging whether the law is constitutional.

Laplante advised attorneys for the ACLU and the state to file more supporting legal briefs before he decides if the case should be referred to the state Supreme Court.

A story posted by New Hampshire Public Radio quoted Laplante as saying he intends “to issue a decision ‘well before the Primary’ on whether the law’s main provisions will be put on hold.”

The ACLU attorneys told Laplante that the law has caused confusion for municipal clerks regarding what information needs to the supplied to new registered voters.

Arguing for the state, assistant attorney general Anthony Galdieri responded that “’all of the obligations of residency apply’ when someone claims to live in the state, and that obtaining a driver’s license is simply one of them,” according to the NHPR story.

“That isn’t confusing,” he added.

The next hearing before Laplante is scheduled for later this month.