Dartmouth Students Voting in New Hampshire

In the 2016 State Election for New Hampshire U.S. Senate, Democrat Maggie Hassan unseated incumbent Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte. Senator Hassan won the race by .1% of the vote— a mere 1,017 votes. With such a small number of votes deciding the election, a town as small as Hanover, and even a student body as small as Dartmouth, could easily have played a pivotal role.

Baker_Memorial_Library,_Dartmouth_College_-_DSC09066In Hanover alone, a total of 7,638 votes were cast. Senator Hassan won the township by a whopping 4,346 votes— more than four times the amount that Hassan won by in the state of New Hampshire.

According to the most recent census, there were 11,260 people living in Hanover in the year 2010. In the census, the Hanover area includes the campus of Dartmouth College. The median age in the census was 22.1 years old and 49.6% of the population was aged 18 to 24. From this data, college students clearly demographically dominate Hanover. While the 2016 election occurred six years after the census was taken, these numbers have probably not changed drastically in that time.

The vote of Dartmouth students most likely swung the election in Hassan’s favor. In 2016, there were 6,350 registered students at the college, 90% of whom were U.S. citizens.  Only one sixth of the Dartmouth population was the same number of votes as the deciding factor in the election. Judging by the large campaigns encouraging students to get out and vote, the shuttle rides providing easy access to Hanover High School, and the number of “I voted” stickers around campus on election day, enough Dartmouth students voted that they likely did decide the election.

Out of the 2,176 students who were offered admission into the college in 2020— the freshman class in 2016— only 35 students were from the state of New Hampshire. Dartmouth College is home to 6,409 graduate and undergraduate students. Extrapolating from the data from the Undergraduate Class of 2020, it is likely that fewer than 200 students grew up in New Hampshire— a mere 3%.   In addition, only 18% of the class was even from New England, while the rest was from all over the country.

Students often mention the “Dartmouth bubble” as a way of referencing how different Dartmouth is from the surrounding areas of New Hampshire.  The campus is physically small and more than 90% of students live on campus. For many students, life in New Hampshire outside of Dartmouth has almost no effect on them.  Yet a large number of them do vote as if it does.

The current voting laws in New Hampshire allow non-permanent residents like college students and medical residents to declare themselves as New Hampshire residents for voting purposes. As someone who attempted to get a New Hampshire license plate while living in a Dartmouth dorm building, I can attest that Dartmouth students are not actually considered New Hampshire residents for anything else.  Because of New Hampshire state laws, way more than the 3% of Dartmouth students who are from New Hampshire vote in Grafton County.

As proven by the most recent election, Dartmouth students have the ability to alter the state politics of New Hampshire, leading to a practical disenfranchisement of the voters of an entire state.  For local elections, Dartmouth students are a dominant demographic in Hanover. Yet, due to Dartmouth’s self-contained nature, local elections have very little effect on the lives of students. Senators, House Representatives, and local politicians are all beholden to their constituents and their constituents ought to be true New Hampshirites.

Most Dartmouth students are not true New Hampshirites. Dartmouth students for the most part do not pay taxes in New Hampshire. While some students do drive in New Hampshire, they have license and license plates from their home states. The majority of Dartmouth students live in campus-owned housing, and therefore most do not own property. Dartmouth students usually work on-campus jobs. Even among those students who indulge in hard drugs, mostexhibit a strong proclivity for powdering their nose, and are thus largely untouched by the New Hampshire opioid epidemic. Dartmouth is a private institution— not a public one— so its funding does not come from New Hampshire. There is on-campus private security rather than Hanover Police patrolling fraternities and sororities.

Dartmouth terms are broken up into a quarter system, and students are told that they must be on an off-term for at least three out of their fifteen terms. Senator Hassan’s term is six years long— two years longer than the standard amount of time it takes an undergraduate student to complete his or her degree. And undergraduate students most certainly had a say in her election. But it is not just a six-year term. Any policy that Hassan advocates for will certainly affect New Hampshirites for far longer than that. And most Dartmouth students not only choose not to stay in Hanover, but choose to leave the state entirely after graduation.

Representation is a tricky task to get right. Restrictions on voting are also difficult, and can often function as a form of voter suppression. But the fix for this dilemma does not necessarily require a policy change. Dartmouth students— vote in your home state. Get involved with yourlocal politics. Apply for absentee ballots. Stop running for political office in a state that most certainly isn’t yours. If you care about politics, then put partisan interests aside and campaign for actual Hanover residents to vote for the person that they believe should represent them. Using your vote wisely can mean deciding not to use it at all.

  • Joseph Asch ’79

    The unfairness is that Dartmouth students can choose to vote in their home state or, at the last minute, in NH, if they feel that their vote will make a greater difference here: http://www.dartblog.com/data/2018/07/013930.php