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New Hampshire Prisoners Gain the Vote

ANew Hampshire Superior Court ruled that state laws prohibiting all incarcerated felons from voting violate the state constitution.

On September 4, 1998, state prisoner David J. Fischer sent a letter to the Rochester City Clerk to request "that you register me to vote in the next election and also that you send me an absentee ballot as well." In response, Fischer was sent a copy of state statute RSA 607-A:2, which prohibits felons from voting "from the time of his sentence until his final discharge."

Fischer filed suit in state court, arguing that Part 1, Article 11 of the NH state constitution extends the vote to "every inhabitant of the state of 18 years of age and upwards" unless that person has been convicted of "treason, bribery, or any willful violation of the election laws of this state or of the United States ..."

The court agreed that "nothing in the plain language of part 1, article 11 suggests that the framers intended to disenfranchise incarcerated felons or delegate such authority to the legislature."

The court further ruled that Mr. Fischer and "any other inmate who timely applied to register in the upcoming election ... shall be permitted, if otherwise qualified, to vote in the town or city of his or her domicile."

Because the (October 27, 1998) ruling was rendered after the deadline for absentee voter registration, the court ruled that prisoners who had not attempted to register "are not entitled to register to vote in the upcoming election." But nothing prevents New Hampshire prisoners from registering in future elections.

"This court ruling has already upset several politicians, especially those in small towns housing prisoners,' writes one prisoner [letter published in Coalition For Prisoners' Rights Newsletter ]. "Berlin, New Hampshire, will have 1,000 [new prisoner] voters... Since the total population of Berlin is only a couple of thousand voters, the way inmates vote as a block will decide election results."

Both the Attorney General and the Governor appealed the ruling to the state Supreme Court. But it would appear that short of amending the state constitution, New Hampshire prisoners will vote in future elections. See: Fischer v. Shaheeen, et al, Merrimack Superior Court Docket No. 98-E-402.

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Related legal case

Fischer v. Shaheen, et al