Ray Duckler: Henniker voters have no vote of confidence
Tim and Tina Roe pictured at their camp in Henniker on Friday, March 7, 2014. Tina, her husband Tim, and their three sons, Vincent, Logan and Cody, now 22, 21 and 19 moved into the camp six years ago. The three boys have since moved out. They were originally only going to stay for one summer, but the financial situation has prevented them from leaving.
(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)
Tina Roe feeds a treat to her 6-year-old bulldog Dozer as her husband rests at their camp in Henniker on Friday, March 7, 2014. Tina, her husband Tim, and their three sons, Vincent, Logan and Cody, now 22, 21 and 19 moved into the camp six years ago. The three boys have since moved out. They were originally only going to stay for one summer, but their financial situation has prevented them from leaving.
(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)
Tina and Tom Roe won’t be at the Henniker Community School gym today voting in their local election.
They were not allowed to vote in 2010, they say, even though they lived in Henniker, at the Rock ‘N’ Birch Campground. The chairman of the selectmen, meanwhile, says people living there have every right to vote, and no one has stood in their way.
And so here we go again, examining a dispute in this Henniker campground for the second time in 2½ weeks.
Last month there was an issue with welfare. Now it’s voting, something Secretary of State Bill Gardner says is open statewide to even the neediest people.
“You can live under a bridge and have the right to vote,” Gardner said. “You can live in a tent along the river and you have the right to vote.”
So what’s the problem?
Kris Blomback, chairman of the Henniker selectmen, says there isn’t one. He also said in an email that the Roes’ claim is flimsy.
“I have no idea if this is true or not,” Blomback said. “First, it was four years ago and, secondly, they cite no official by name for us to conduct an investigation. In my book that’s not much to follow up on.”
The Roes stand firm. They came forward once they read my column about their neighbors’ struggle to secure welfare assistance from the town. They felt disrespected, as though they had no rights, and they said so in an email to me.
“We just want to be afforded the same rights and privileges as those given to any other resident of this town,” Tina Roe said. “We want to be able to register our automobile . . . license our pets, check out a book at the local library or to vote if we so choose to do so, but the town of Henniker says no.”
So I paid them a visit.
I met a couple who pride themselves on strong family values, who administered tough love to teach their four children accountability, and who would like their voices heard in local politics.
Tom, a bear of a man with a silver beard and gravely voice, works third shift at a factory in Manchester. He sat at his kitchen table last week puffing on L&M cigarettes, telling stories about dropping out of Manchester Central High to wash dishes and work in factories to help pay the bills.
His mother, a seamstress, raised eight kids alone. She taught Tom to depend on himself and expect life to “kick you in the butt now and then.”
He doesn’t mind living in a park in which dozens of people share two bathrooms, but he minds being told he can’t vote.
“My mother taught me that I live in one of the greatest countries in the world, and you have the right to say what you want,” Tom said. “Taking my right to vote away seems un-American to me.”
Tina, educated at NHTI and Hesser College, said she was told about her voting status shortly after the couple moved to Henniker.
“I went to register to vote four years ago,” Tina said. “I was told I’m not a legal resident. I was told I’m not allowed to vote because of where I live.”
Rock ‘N’ Birch is not a legal residence. Not after owner Ray Panetta, sued by the town looking to label the grounds as seasonal, settled the case out of court. He agreed that his campground would not be used to establish residency.
But that didn’t stop him from staying open, year-round, to help families needing a cheap place to live.
And by law, that earns you a vote, simply by signing paperwork under oath.
“Even if a homeless person wants to vote, a homeless person has the right to vote,” Gardner said. “We suggested having a homeless person put a shelter or soup kitchen for verification if an official feels the person is no longer domiciled. As long as that’s physically where they are living and they sign an affidavit that says it’s their domicile, they can vote.”
Ironically, the state’s voter-friendly rule, which allows people to register on Election Day, first took effect in Henniker about 30 years ago.
Gardner said students at New England College in Henniker had to show their birth certificate to prove U.S. citizenship and vote.
But a judge ruled that signing a sworn affidavit was enough, and it didn’t matter whether you came here from out of state, either.
“Just because you came from California three months ago does not mean you cannot establish domicile here,” Gardner said. “So Henniker was the place where the affidavits came into being.”
It worked for Rusty Patnode and Sandy Perry on the day of the 2008 presidential election, but, they say, only after a town official humiliated them.
Patnode, a candle maker, says he and his girlfriend filled out paperwork to vote, giving Rock ‘N’ Birch Campground as their home address.
Patnode says this is how the conversation went from there.
Clerk: “This is not a legal address.”
Patnode: “We understand that it’s not a legal address, but that’s where we live.”
“But this is not a legal address.”
“Sorry, but whether you like it or not, that’s where we live.”
Patnode and Perry were then allowed to vote.
“She kind of sneered at us, I guess you could say,” Patnode said yesterday.
In an email, Blomback defended the town by saying three people, including Patnode and Perry, are registered voters who used Rock ‘N’ Birch as their home address.
“We do take comfort in our knowledge that other Rock ‘N’ Birch inhabitants are listed on the voter registry,” Blomback said. “So their claim that they were turned away is not in sync with the reality of our voter registry.”
But being in the registry is no reflection on how the couple say they were treated. They haven’t voted since, a fact Blomback said is hard to believe.
“It’s pretty tough if you’ve ever voted in Henniker,” Patnode said. “Henniker is not too easy. It kind of made us feel like we were substandard people. Why do we want to go through the hassle of that again?”