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Primary Source: COVID-19 could affect key college student vote in New Hampshire

By JOHN P. GREGG - Valley News Staff Writer | Jun 20, 2020

The race for New Hampshire’s four Electoral College votes is going to be close in November, and the COVID-19 pandemic may play a role.

If thousands of students at Dartmouth College and other universities around the state don’t return to campus in the fall as a safety precaution, it could also deprive Democrats of a key voting bloc that helped Hillary Clinton in 2016 and was also a deciding factor in Democrat Maggie Hassan’s defeat of then-U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.

Clinton defeated Donald Trump by just 0.3 percentage points – less than 3,000 votes – in 2016 in New Hampshire, thanks in large part to the 23,100 votes she won in the college towns of Hanover, Durham, Keene and Plymouth, to just 8,600 there for Trump.

Dartmouth has already signaled that not all students will be allowed back on campus in the fall – a decision is expected by the end of the month.

Given that most Dartmouth students are from out of state, as are more than half of University of New Hampshire’s 13,000 undergraduates, many of them, if still at home with mom and dad, could be more likely to vote there than to take an absentee ballot and vote in New Hampshire.

Hanover Town Clerk Betsy McClain said students comprise about 30% of Hanover’s voter checklist and that she expects many of them “will be encouraged by local organizers to vote via absentee ballot.” But if Dartmouth (and other schools) keep first-year students away, that could be a different story.

“If these individuals are not on campus for the fall, I don’t see how they will be eligible to register to vote (as they have yet to establish their Hanover physical domicile), and I believe this would have an observable impact on our electorate,” McClain said via email on Wednesday.

Ann Shump, the supervisor of the checklist in Durham, also said things are somewhat up in the air, though UNH appears more likely to have students return.

“We hope to be able to work collaboratively with UNH to register students who wish to vote in Durham before November, either in person somehow or absentee, and then to encourage students as well as other residents in Durham to vote absentee.”

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