CONCORD, N.H., Oct. 26 -- Ryan Smith, a senior at Keene State College, thought it would be more satisfying to vote in an electoral battleground than in Massachusetts, the home state he shares with Democratic nominee John F. Kerry.
But at a voter registration event on campus last week, the 22-year-old was turned away by a town official who told him that the college identification and piece of mail he brought to prove he lives locally was insufficient.
University of Missouri students Ashley Blattel, left, wearing a President Bush mask, Mark Halastik, wearing a first lady Laura Bush mask, and Jamie Tilbury, wearing a John F. Kerry mask, check out each other's Halloween attire at the Kansas City Costume Co. in Kansas City, Mo.
(Joe Ledford -- AP)
"All I wanted to do was vote," said Smith, an undecided voter, who said that Democratic Party volunteers standing nearby eventually persuaded the official to process his forms. "It left me wondering whether all the hassle was worth it."
Reports of college students being discouraged from registering by local officials in a host of college towns are growing more common in the Granite State, where Kerry and President Bush are locked in a tight race. The issue of student eligibility has also been a source of contention in other states, including Virginia, Texas and Maine.
Democrats allege a systematic program of "scare tactics" designed to suppress turnout among one of their key constituencies. Republicans say they will be monitoring out-of-staters at the polls on Nov. 2 to ensure that state election laws designed to prevent voter fraud are enforced.
Unlike most states, New Hampshire, which Bush won by 7,211 votes in 2000, allows voters to register on Election Day. Assistant Attorney General Orville "Bud" Fitch II and Secretary of State William M. Gardner held a news conference here on Tuesday to explain the rules pertaining to college students from outside the state.
The session was requested by Carl Pope, executive director of the environmental group Sierra Club, who said that, while visiting the University of New Hampshire at Durham on Monday students told him of problems they encountered while trying to register.
"To vote is the crown jewel of democracy, and we don't want anyone taking advantage of it on either side," Gardner said.
The Republican-dominated legislature passed a law last year that requires people whose identification indicates they are from out of state to sign an affidavit that shifts their "domicile" to New Hampshire before they can register to vote.
Election officials say the new law is intended to clarify voter eligibility and to bar people from voting in multiple states. But Republican legislative leaders have said that they also hope it will prevent out-of-towners from exercising too much influence over state politics.
An informational posting on a state election Web site advises college students that changing their domicile requires them to re-register their cars within 60 days and to apply for a new driver's license. It also warns that, in some instances, health and auto insurance coverage, tax status and scholarships could be affected.
Democrats have called the new law the "Voter Intimidation Act" and have been reminding students that they can easily change their domicile back after the election. "The consequences they describe, such as for financial aid and so forth, apply only to a small fraction of students," said Judy Reardon, a senior adviser with the Kerry campaign here.
Jayne Millerick, chairwoman of the Republican State Committee, said: "We want everyone to vote who can legally do so, but [the Democrats] are doing students a disservice by not informing them of their obligations."