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It's all about the voting

Last modified: 3/13/2011 12:00:00 AM
As we in the northern New England states well know, it's tough being a small, cold place stuck up in the old northeast corner of a country that is increasingly beguiled by the blandishments of sunny and warm sections of this great and varied nation.

We need gimmicks.

Maine has lobsters and picturesquely rocky shores as its claims to fame. Well, it does have a lot more lobsters than we do, and (to be honest) our paltry 13 or so miles of coastline is sort of lacking in megawatt charm, especially the significant chunk of it sporting a nuclear power plant.

Our other northern New England neighbor, Vermont, has successfully built its image on a triumvirate of mountains, cheese and maple syrup. It's preposterous, of course. While I'll give them the cheese advantage, their mountains are just molehills compared with our magnificent peaks. And maple syrup? C'mon! Their conglomerate syrup producers' product can't hold a candle to the sweet elixir lovingly bottled at Rossview Farm or the Hutchinson Family Sugar House in Canterbury.

So what do we have?

Easy. Voting!

We are the votingest state in the union. Depending on where we live, we vote on everything from selectmen to road agents, cemetery trustees, police chiefs, tax collectors and even, in a few places, fence viewers and hog reeves. We vote every year. We vote in polling places. We vote at town meetings. We keep our elected officials on really short leashes. Our governor gets only a two-year term. Heck, so do our legislators - all 424 of 'em.

Only people who are completely nuts about voting would have a House of Representatives that's the third biggest in the English-speaking world.

Admittedly, from time to time a few of those representatives are themselves nuts. How else do you explain why some lawmakers - in the state that has enshrined voting as the highest duty of good citizens and has persuaded the rest of the nation that our devotion to voting makes us uniquely worthy of hosting, every four years, the country's first presidential primaries - have decided it is a good thing to make it harder for people to vote?

Look at a few new voting laws they've proposed.

One bright idea would require all people to present official photo IDs before they can vote in order to prevent 'voter fraud,' which virtually every knowledgeable person - from our venerable secretary of state, Bill Gardner, to the diligent

town clerks who conscientiously serve at polling places up to four times a year - agrees does not exist in the state of New Hampshire.

Another would do away with same-day voter registration, which (it is worth remembering) was enacted specifically so that New Hampshire would not have to comply with the national Motor Voter Act, which set up a complicated voter registration system that would have been inordinately expensive for our state to adopt. Still would be, I imagine.

Remember Lobsterman!

One of the loopier proposals is a bill that would require any person entering the famed New Hampshire primary to file a 'long form' birth certificate and a sworn affidavit that he or she was a U.S. citizen. No secret who's being targeted here.

Mind you, this is in a state that cheerfully accepts filing fees from any manner of, well, eccentrics and sets them loose on the Granite State voters, who relish the weird side show every four years. Remember Lobsterman, anyone? Even the House's 19th-century leadership realized that passing the Birther bill would gravely damage The Primary. And that's a bigger sin than enacting an income tax.

But, Birthers, you've got a friend in the Granite State Legislature! In fact, a whole bunch of 'em, since it missed passing the relevant committee by only two votes. This despite the fact that the Legislature's third-in-command, Shawn Jasper, called it 'beyond the pale' and said lawmakers would 'put ourselves up for public ridicule.'

Targeting college kids

Too late, Shawn. Another bill did set us up for national public ridicule, a measure proposed by Rep. Gregory Sorg that would make it all but impossible for college students (and, incidentally, members of the military posted here) to vote in the towns where they live. If it doesn't make it through, it will be because it became a laughingstock with late-night comics and other arbiters of public opinion.

It may be dead - not because it's likely unconstitutional but because a grainy recording of House Speaker Bill O'Brien addressing a Tea Party gathering became a web and YouTube sensation. After all, said the Gabby Hayes beard-sporting speaker, when he was young and 'foolish' he voted 'liberal.' Students, with no 'life experience,' just 'vote their feelings.' Bad!

Sorg didn't help his cause when he scorned students as creatures of 'ignorance and inexperience' and 'youthful idealism' focused on 'remaking the world.'

Idealism! Oh, the horror!

Bill, Greg. Get a grip. We have some 22 colleges and universities, many with multiple campuses and satellites, in this state. They have more than 80,000 students who support our local economy day-to-day. Many of them are invaluable volunteers in their communities. Do you really want to tell these people that their money is welcome here but they aren't?

Foot soldiers

Plus a lot of these students - and believe me, they are not, despite the fevered imaginings of conservatives, all just a bunch of liberals - have for years been the real foot soldiers, the grunts, the folks who trudge uncomplainingly from house to house with door knockers and pamphlets, in our political campaigns. Especially those presidential primaries we so cherish. Is it really smart to tell them they're unwelcome?

Also, studies have shown that the best predictor of a habitual voter - and isn't that what we want here in vote-happy New Hampshire? - is voting at a young age. That's why we encourage parents to bring their kiddies to polling places. So they can learn early the importance of civic involvement.

Surely encouraging lifelong voters is a good thing. And even if some of them are hopeless 'idealists' who vote for Democrats now, many can be trusted to mature into cranky conservative Republicans. Just look at O'Brien and Sorg!

A lot of these bills may not pass, at least not this year, thanks to the bad press they're getting.

But I have one final question for our new lawmakers: If the voters of New Hampshire are as stupid and/or corrupt and/or idealistic and easily led as you seem to believe, how on earth did they ever come to elect you fine specimens?

(Monitor columnist Katy Burns lives in Bow.)


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