As of this writing, there are 1056 registered voters in Bennington: 254 Democrats, 330 Republicans, 472 Undeclared, and 0 Libertarians. Why, you may ask, are there 0 Libertarians? This can be explained by the recent arrival of the Libertarian Party on our checklist. Any Party which receives 4% or more of the votes in the General Election for Governor or US Senate gains the right to appear on the ballot, which allows voters to register to vote as a member of that party. Since Gary Johnson received 4.13% of the votes for Governor as a Libertarian, his party qualified.
In the last few years we have witnessed a great deal of discussion revolving around “voter fraud”. As a result, the legislature has been very busy cooking up more and more complicated rules to prevent anyone from voting where they do not live. In New Hampshire we call the place where you live, for voting purposes, your “domicile”. New voters and voters who have moved to Bennington will be asked to present evidence of domicile. If voters do not present this evidence, they will still be allowed to register to vote by executing a sworn statement in which they promise to produce evidence of domicile within 30 days. Without this evidence, the burden of proof falls on local election officials and other town employees to investigate and verify the voter's domicile – a time-consuming process. Failing that, verification goes to the Secretary of State and Attorney General.
Reading the current New Hampshire Election Laws is enough to make your head spin. Following these laws is difficult, time consuming, and costs extra mounds of wasteful paperwork. Is all of this complication achieving anything real? Noam Chomsky, the great linguist and scholar, said, “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum”. Could all this debate about voter fraud be preventing us from looking at the big picture? The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity was disbanded on January 3 after spending millions of dollars of taxpayers' money without turning up any evidence of wide-spread voter fraud. Maybe our focus should be elsewhere:
When any system becomes cumbersome and not user-friendly, it is time to modernize: As of the last Census, only 68% of eligible Americans were registered to vote. Compare this to our neighbor Canada, which has a 92% voter registration rate. The difference is that their voter registration system does not put the burden of registration on the individual voter, nor does it rely on mounds of paperwork to track changes in voter data. Canada and other democracies (France, Sweden, Mexico, Australia, etc.) use 21st century technology to keep their voter rolls up to date and accurate.
Voting is a right, not a privilege. Registering to vote should be automatic, with an opt-out option for those who do not want to participate, not an opt-in system with ever more complicated rules that discourage participation. The key to an automatic system is carefully regulated data-sharing between government agencies. Data-sharing allows election officials to update the voter rolls continuously, using information that already exists on other government lists. Barriers to voting should be removed to ensure that all citizens are included in this vital process.
But for now, New Hampshire voters will have to come to the polls prepared to do things the old-fashioned way: bring your photo I.D.s to vote. And if you are a new voter coming to register, be sure to bring something that ties you to your domicile: motor vehicle registration, drivers' license, any other government or school I.D. with your residence on it, school enrollment forms, public utility bills, landlord agreements, real estate sales agreements, tax bills, an affidavit signed by the property owner where you live, or any other evidence that ties you to the place where you currently live. Election officials in Bennington promise that we will do our best to make registering and voting as pleasant and painless as ever.
See you at the polls!
Brenda Gibbons, Melissa Searles, Victoria Turner,
SUPERVISORS OF THE CHECKLIST