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Hi Joan. Yes, I think that last week, in good New England tradition, we fired the second shot heard round the world. On March 13 towns all over New Hampshire held their annual Town Meetings. This is the longstanding tradition still observed by many New England towns, where we vote on the business, budget, and laws of the town. In New Hampshire the Town Meeting is still direct democracy, meaning we all vote on every issue, on the "articles" on what we call the Town Warrant.
Any citizen of the town can get an article on the town warrant by obtaining at least 25 signatures from registered voters. So this year, in my town we voted on Petition Article 22, which was to prohibit concealed vote counting by computers or otherwise and to guarantee that the voting system would be public for citizen oversight. The vote was overwhelmingly in favor of the article, with only a couple of folks voting "Nay". I think this is historic, actually. We are the first town in NH to pass such a law, and possibly the first town in the nation.
Where did the idea for Petition Article 22 come from? And isn't it a little like closing the barn door after the horse has taken off?
Do we protect and defend it or do we let it burn to the ground?
Petition Article 22 was carefully written to address the core problem with our American elections today. Roughly 95% of the nation's elections conceal the vote count from the public eye. We all diligently cast our ballots, but then we hand the ballot box to some anonymous stranger with a hood over his head, who takes the ballots into a sealed room and comes out later to announce our "election results". This is insane and in any other country it would be called a banana republic. In our country it should be called illegal and unconstitutional.
In my town we still have public vote counts and so Petition Article 22 proactively defends that. Other towns or jurisdictions with home rule around the nation can do exactly the same thing to either protect their public vote counts, as we did here in Lyndeborough, or to restore them. Either way, we all have the power to restore public elections as long as we are alive and breathing.
Some would argue that this is a symbolic, but largely empty, gesture. After all, with the Supreme Court jumping in to interfere with Florida's vote counting in 2000 and the passage of the (ill-named) Help America Vote Act in 2002, it looks like elections have been taken out of the hands of the individual states. So, what's the point, if the Supreme Court or some other federal body can come and say, "Nice try, guys, but this is the way it's going to be."
Well, if you watch the youtube of the Town Meeting you'll see that one of our townspeople brought up this question. And the reality is that the U.S. Constitution endows the states and not the Feds control over elections. The reason is simple: the Founders understood the benefit and the checks and balances inherent in this kind of distributed power. The federal government can step in if and when it deems the states are not doing a proper job of it and we have seen the results of this with the Help America Vote Act.
Unfortunately, like so many other things the US Congress does this bill was corrupt and does not serve the interests of the people of this nation. The Supreme Court's disgraceful actions in Election 2000 were so distasteful that even they, in their own ruling, cynically stated their decision could not be used as precedent in future cases.
Since the founding of the nation, there has always been a tension between advocates of centralized and power and advocates for distributed power. But the foundational principles of the Constitution rest on distributed power and many states and jurisdictions support home rule, bringing distributed power to a more granular quality at the local level. In NH every city and town can decide which of the state-approved voting systems they can use. I'd like to see the day when state officials try to ban public hand counts. That's a constitutional battle I think we should all be raring to fight.
and looked for solutions from the federal government. We have seen this in the divisive argumentation in favor of what is known as "the Holt Bill" in its various iterations. Activists turn a blind eye to the extreme and dangerous consolidation of executive power that is promised by the Holt Bill, as they are ever hopeful that "big brother" will ride in and save the day.
We need to take back our public elections from the ground up. One town at a time. One jurisdiction at a time, if that's what it takes. It may take a long time, but what meaningful social and civil rights reform doesn't?
Aint that the truth! Walk us through the steps you took to bring this affirmation into being. Was it hard? Did your fellow citizens get it instinctively or did you have to do a lot of explaining along the way?
Well, first I had to learn the law. In NH we have local control over voting in that each city and town decides which state-approved voting system to use. My town has always hand counted and we love our elections. They are a big community event with bake sales and local chatter. Everyone working the election is a community member. This year one of the election workers had just released a book of short stories and so that was on sale too.