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Katy Burns: Republicans and ballot boogeymen

  • President Trump would have you believe that if you looked behind the voting booth curtains in New Hampshire on Nov. 8, you would have found a whole bunch of voters bused in from Massachusetts. AP


Sunday, February 12, 2017

Whew! We found out just a few days ago that we’ll have one less crazy proposed voting law for our legislators to worry about in the days ahead.

The measure in question – or perhaps I should say no longer in question – is whether New Hampshire should abandon election day voting registration, a cause at least briefly supported by our new governor, Chris Sununu, who griped on a Boston talk show that nefarious Massachusetts (presumably Democratic) operatives are “busing (illegal voters) in all over the place” on election day.

And just Friday, no less a personage than Donald Trump hopped on the conspiracy train, according to Politico, telling a gathering of 10 senators in Washington that were it not for “thousands” of people who were “brought in on buses” from Massachusetts to “illegally” vote in New Hampshire on election day, Kelly Ayotte would have beaten Maggie Hassan and been reelected.

This fiction (a polite way to put it) that hordes of fake voters from the Bay State regularly pour over the border – in buses yet! – is a favorite of Granite State Republicans, although there has never been, as far as I know, even one confirmed sighting of one of these people-packed buses. But supposedly getting rid of election day registration – which has worked brilliantly here for several decades – would put a quick stop to this allegedly rampant bus traffic.

There’s only one teeny problem with the solution, as the bill’s sponsor (and presumably Sununu) have learned. It would mean New Hampshire would be subject to the national Motor Voter law, which would require voter registration to be offered by a number of public agencies, including driver licensing bureaus and public assistance offices. It would require us to build a whole new – and expensive – bureaucracy. The sponsor decided to withdraw the bill.

In fact, New Hampshire passed election day registration in the first place in 1993 as sort of a Hail Mary pass cooked up by Sen. Judd Gregg, Gov. Steve Merrill and the GOP leadership in the State House, with the approval of our Secretary of State’s Office, to keep the Granite State from being snared by the brand-new Motor Voter law in the first place!

It’s amazing how quickly Republicans can forget their heritage if it interferes with their recent obsession with voter fraud. Rep. David Bates, for example, is said to have 11 election-related bills in the hopper this season. Odds are most of them are designed to restrict who will be allowed to vote in our fair state.

And at least one bill definitely will try to parse the meanings of “residence” and “domicile,” concepts which seem to bedevil GOP lawmakers today the way, it is said, that figuring the number of angels who could dance on the head of pin obsessed medieval theologians with too much time on their hands.

Generally, what the lawmakers want to do is to keep college kids – even if they live in New Hampshire for at least nine months each year – from voting in New Hampshire on the theory, I guess, that said college kids will flock to the polls and with their ignorant and ill-considered votes somehow screw up the vote for, perhaps, road agent or cemetery trustee.

Republicans are obsessed with the idea of massive numbers of college kids stealing elections. In the real world, massive numbers of college students do not vote. If they did, President Hillary Clinton would likely be planning her first trip to Europe about now.

In fact, we – including Republicans – if for nothing more than the good of the future of the body politic should be encouraging college students and other young people to vote, because early voting is the best predictor of a lifelong voting habit. Which is – or should be – a good thing.

We – by “we” of course I mean mostly Republicans – certainly should stop obsessing about voting day election fraud by passing ever more onerous restrictions on – and conditions for – in-person voting, which study after study over the years has shown to be virtually non-existent in this state and for that matter in this country. No matter what Uncle Fred says, real facts do matter.

There are no busloads of Massachusetts voters flooding New Hampshire every election day, despite what our governor or president might say. And – regardless of what the current White House occupant claims – 3 million to 5 million illegal immigrants and dead people did not vote last November.

Sure, we have a long and colorful history of election day shenanigans in this great country, going all the way back to no less august a personage than George Washington. Yes, that honorable George Washington, often called the Father of our Country, who was deemed to have lost his first bid for office in Virginia because he stinted on the free booze to the local voters. Historians note that it was a mistake good old George – who had his own distillery – never made again.

And yes, that history includes some pretty corrupt big city political machines – some Democratic, some Republican, but all dedicated to holding power by whatever means necessary, including the wholesale buying and stealing of votes.

But that was then. Now, in this thoroughly computerized 21st-century with voluminous open records and cameras everywhere, it is all but impossible to pull off such voting day chicanery.

And, most important, in-person election day fraud is just an absurdly stupid way to try to hijack an election. Think of the plotting and conniving and preparing that would have to go into casting one – just one – fraudulent vote among the thousands, even millions, of legitimate votes cast.

Under the most optimal conditions, stealing that single vote would be a colossal waste of time and effort. And should the thief of that single, virtually useless vote be caught, the penalties for that theft are draconian – automatic jail time as well as steep fines. Just imagine trying to find the thousands of evil-doers willing to take that great risk to steal even one small election.

Why would people do something so dumb? They wouldn’t.

If we really want to stop potential voter fraud, we should go where it’s possible to steal votes. For example, absentee voting! It is pitifully easy to get an absentee ballot in New Hampshire. And when one is mailed back to the town clerk, what proof – other than a cursory signature check – is there that a real, honest-to-God Granite State voter actually filled the darned thing out?

Why not make all those snowbirds basking in Florida heat and sun at least send in copies of the photo IDs they’d need to vote in person? Or fill the ballots out in the presence of a notary?

But that would mean that our lawmakers don’t trust their warmth-seeking constituents, that such people should be considered inherently dishonest. Wouldn’t it? Surely the likelihood that those constituents are perhaps considered more likely to vote Republican wouldn’t be a factor, would it?

At the inception of this country, almost the only Americans allowed to vote were property-owning white men. We’ve been expanding the franchise ever since. Today, free and fair voting is the crown jewel of American citizenship. And we shouldn’t deny that right simply because of rumors or suspicions – no matter how many imaginary buses of phantom voters our governor or president might think are plying our roads.

(“Monitor” columnist Katy Burns lives in Bow.)