When I was writing the We're Counting the Votes Kit, I asked several experts to review it for me. Experts in election law, election administration, and election activism. I also asked regular citizens to review it. Some came back to me and suggested that the inclusion of so many election laws in the Kit made it somewhat unwieldy. It was suggested that I simply cite the laws so readers could look them up at their leisure. I was compelled, however, to include each and every word of New Hampshire election laws that were relevant to the topics at hand.
These laws represent the character, the nature, and the essence of the New Hampshire election system. These laws were crafted by New Hampshire legislators, some at the suggestion of citizens, some not. Some of these laws are exemplary, and some should be changed.
The point is, that it is through these election laws that the voice of the people must be heard, and listened to. And by understanding and listening to these laws, the citizens of New Hampshire can pick their way through the brambles of thorny and difficult issues and find the way forward.
Finding the answers to the challenges we face in our election systems today begins with knowing which questions to ask. More often than not, the questions are found in our laws. Why do we have to stand four feet from the counting on election night? Is it legal for the Ballot Law Commission to go ahead and approve voting machine software when they know that it is defective? In a recount, is it the manual or the machine count that is the count of record? Why was the ballot redesigned this way?
The United States of America is, at its most fundamental level, a nation of the rule of law. And at the heart of all of our efforts, it is our State laws that provide the most direct link between the people and their governing representatives. It is our State laws that must be strengthened and crafted to ensure that we have the election systems that we need to preserve our American democracy.
For this reason, I felt it was important to make the laws directly available to anyone using the Counting the Votes Kit, regardless of how unwieldy and sometimes arcane it may appear. For this reason, too, we made the Kit available in editable Word format for those who wish to localize it to their regions. It is my hope that others will find in the Kit an opportunity to learn and to teach others about their own State laws. And in doing so, they will find, in both the roses and the thorns, their own way forward.
A word on national election reform efforts:
We live in a dangerous time. We need our states to be strong in order to re-establish the system of checks and balances and decentralized power on which our American democracy thrives. In these dangerous times, we have witnessed an unprecedented and systematic assault on the democratic and constitutional processes that are the basis for the freedoms and liberties cherished by all patriots of the American Republic.
Amazingly, this assault is coming from our own Federal government, from all three branches with full complicity of the fourth estate, the media. It has been six years since the Judicial Branch of government put a stop to an electoral recount, thereby deciding through judicial action the President of the United States of America. During this time, the Legislative and Executive Branches have colluded in astoundingly undemocratic actions such as sending our men and women to kill and be killed in a war based on lies, passing the Patriot and the Real ID Acts, running torture camps and holding prisoners with no legal representation. On top of all this, all three branches of the Federal government have poured out a steady stream of unethical and even criminal electoral acts, including the passage of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), which insinuated insecure and defective voting equipment into our elections at an unconscionable cost to taxpayers and American democracy.
What is even more amazing, is that, in the face of this brazen and unrelenting assault against democracy, many election activists and reform organizations continue to push for legislation that will hand over sweeping electoral powers to that same Federal government described above.
After nearly four decades of disastrous national election reforms, each of which has steadily increased centralized Federal power, the important lessons that should have been learned are set aside in a frenzied push for more of the same.
Today, a tremendous amount of effort is being made to pass national legislation, such as HR 550, which itself promises to be nothing more than HAVA II. Election reformers pushing hard for this legislation now find themselves aligned with the original architects of HAVA, as evidenced by Representative Steny Hoyer's recent show of support for HR 550.
But Representative Hoyer knows what many of us have already surmised: HR 550 will open up the floodgates for an expanded election industry, once again bankrolled by the American taxpayer at the expense of American democracy. He knows, too, that the Election Assistance Commission, the keystone feature of HAVA I which he helped to design, will be strengthened through HR 550 in such a way that we the people will completely lose any semblance of control over our own elections.
What is called for in dangerous times such as these, when corruption and dysfunction characterize all three branches of our government AND the media, is not more concentration of power. What is needed is for the citizens of the American Republic to take back our country town by town, city by city, and state by state. What is needed is a strengthening of the base of power that belongs to we the people.
I hope that the We're Counting the Votes Kit is one small step in this direction.
Nancy Tobi, September 2006