Our Turn: The Canterbury canary is free, and singing

Published: 6/30/2019 12:10:06 AM

“I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear ...” – Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (1892)

Recent state representative elections in Merrimack Districts 9 (Canterbury and Loudon) and 26 (Canterbury, Loudon and three towns west of the Merrimack) have been hard-fought, but generally civil, fair and focused on the issues.

Democratic and Republican candidates have often disagreed, sometimes sharply, but they respect each other and enjoy friendly personal relations.

Since 2012, there have been bipartisan candidate forums and occasional Saturday morning “legislative listening sessions” in both Canterbury and Loudon. Listening sessions are announced in town newspapers and typically attended by 20 to 30 residents, who question their state reps on the votes they have cast and give them a piece of their own minds.

Until recently, no one had suggested that failure to attend a listening session might be evidence of voter fraud. But on April 6, the Monitor published an op-ed by Rep. Howard Pearl, a Loudon Republican representing Merrimack 26, entitled “Voter fraud and the canary of Canterbury.” In it, Pearl claimed “New Hampshire elections … have the loosest voting requirements in the country.”

“Where else,” he asked, “can out-of-staters register on election day with out-of-state identification, vote and then disappear?”

As will be seen, no Canterbury election day registrants have “disappeared” – but putting that aside, it is simply not true that our elections are subject to “the loosest voting requirements in the country.” The National Conference of State Legislatures (ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/same-day-registration and ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/voter-id) lists at least 14 other states that permit election day registration either without any photo ID requirement at all or using an out-of-state driver’s license (among other forms of photo ID) in order to establish identity. All of these states, including New Hampshire, also require separate proof of domicile (i.e., residency for voting purposes). In addition:

■All states except New Hampshire and three others allow people to register to vote when applying for a driver’s license or public assistance.

■All states allow otherwise qualified students to vote while in state attending school, because the courts have consistently ruled for over 40 years that the Constitution requires them to do so.

Rep. Pearl concluded his April 6 op-ed with this head-scratcher:

“Before a recent legislative listening session in [Canterbury], I mailed or had hand-delivered personalized invitations to each of the 116 (sic) same-day registrants from last fall’s elections.

“Zero, yes zero, showed up. I have had several returned in the mail to me stating ‘Return to Sender. No Such Street.’ This outreach opened my eyes to how easy it would be for fraudulent voter registration to occur.

“Coal miners used to bring caged canaries into tunnels to monitor air quality. If a canary got sick it meant big trouble. Canterbury perhaps represents an electoral canary, warning that our election processes are at risk in every community ...

“The canary is struggling to breathe.”

Rep. Pearl’s logic was and is a complete mystery to us. Why should same-day registered voters invited to a listening session be expected to drop everything to attend – rather than, say, enjoying a cup of coffee at home with a spouse or partner? And why assume that because none “showed up,” they must have “disappeared”?

We checked to see whether Pearl’s logic held up. It didn’t.

The stunt began when the defeated Republican candidates for the two seats in Merrimack 9 came in to the town clerk’s office asking to see the voter checklist. They copied information on a number of voters, whom Rep. Pearl then apparently “personally invited” to the listening session.

Rep. Moffett later reviewed the same voter checklist. The three supervisors had entered same-day registered voters by hand on the last page of each printed alphabetical section of voters whose last names begin with A, B, C, etc. The supervisors are very familiar with Canterbury street names, would not register someone with an address on a non-existent street, and they demand documentation not just of personal ID but also of each registrant’s Canterbury address, as required by law. Moffett made note of the pages with the hand-written entries (there were 95, not 116). For 15 cents per page, we got photocopies of the 27 relevant pages.

Maja Smith checked each of the 95 names against the Canterbury tax rolls. She found 43 who own homes at the addresses they listed on Nov. 6, and 24 with the same family name, suggesting they were also legitimate residents. One was “confidential,” i.e. legally not identifiable. That left 27 same-day registered voters who could be renters or live-in guests of the property owners, or who might have “disappeared” (or moved) since Nov. 6. But most owners of homes at the listed addresses are known in town, and Google helped. So, without intruding on anyone’s privacy, we confirmed that each same-day registrant lives at the address given to the supervisors of the checklist – or at least did so on Nov. 6.

The one exception was a street number with two digits transposed in the hand-written entry. (We have given copies of the hand-written voter checklist pages and the confirmation spreadsheets to the Monitor.)

We thought Monitor readers might like to know that the putatively caged Canterbury canary is happy, healthy and breathing freely, and is not about to expire from voter fraud any time soon. If it isn’t singing at the moment, that’s because it’s listening to America singing in Canterbury, like Walt Whitman over a century ago.

(Howard Moffett of Canterbury is one of Merrimack District 9’s two state representatives, along with Loudon’s George Saunderson. Maja Smith is a member of Canterbury Citizens for Democracy.)

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