Secretary of States office to provide voting info for New Americans
Published: 11-26-2023 8:30 PM
Modified: 11-28-2023 3:57 PM
When Judge Andrea Johnston swore in 60 new U.S. citizens this summer, she told the crowd that citizenship was not a passive status. It’s an act of democracy.
It’s the ability to serve on a jury. It is the freedom of the press and the right to practice the religion of your choice. And it’s to participate in government, by voting for representatives at the local, state and national level, she said.
The last component of that is key to Secretary of State David Scanlan. For people who become naturalized citizens, voting is often one of the first ways they exercise their new rights. Now, the Secretary of State’s Office wants to make that process just a little bit easier.
Scanlan’s office, alongside a partnership with Concord TV, has created a set of informational materials for New American voters.
Through a pocket-sized voter guide and an informational video, the process of how to register and what to expect at the polls is outlined for new voters.
“We want every qualified voter in New Hampshire to be able to exercise their right to vote, and sometimes the most difficult part of that process is actually getting the voter to go and register and vote for the first time,” he said.
In the video, a New American registers to vote for the first time, with the help of Clement Kigugu, the executive director of Overcomers Refugee Services, serving as a translator. Bringing someone to assist with registering is one of many rights voters may not know they have with the election process, said Scanlan.
It’s one of many things that he hopes the materials will teach new voters – along with the fact that someone could register while renewing their car registration or dog license at their city clerk’s office.
“The objective is how do we get these voters that belong to minority groups that have been naturalized to become comfortable with that process,” he said.
This is not the first initiative to make voting more accessible during Scanlan’s tenure as Secretary of State. Ahead of the 2022 elections, voting information was available in Spanish, French and Mandarin Chinese at all polling locations. These three languages were identified as the most commonly spoken, aside from English, in New Hampshire from U.S. Census Data.
Under the Voting Rights Act, if a jurisdiction has more than 10,000 people or 5 percent of the area population that speak a different language, election materials must be provided in that language.
Although there are no jurisdictions in New Hampshire that meet this threshold, there is no reason to not make information more accessible, said Scanlan.
“New Hampshire is nowhere near those levels. But it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t make resources available to those individuals that may need some help,” he said.
The video component continues the work of the late John Gfroerer, who had worked on numerous video projects for the Secretary of State’s office, said Scanlan. He’d begun filming this project before he passed. Now Concord TV is carrying on his work.
Doing so not only honors Gfroerer’s legacy, said Michael O’Meara, IT and programming director for Concord TV. But it also aligns with the nonprofit’s mission of making government accessible.
“This is just like a core part of our mission,” he said. “One of our favorite things about the job is that we get to interact with so many different groups of people, so many different perspectives. For us, the biggest thing is everybody feeling like they’re being treated as a human and that they’re being included.”
As New Hampshire continues to welcome New Americans, with a growing population in Concord specifically, Scanlan wants to ensure that newly naturalized citizens participate in the state’s rich history of civic engagement.
“Voting is that individual’s voice in our democracy and their vote is equal to everybody else’s vote. There’s no vote that is more or less important than anybody else’s. And our encouragement is to exercise that important right,” he said. “If there is anything that we can do to help that voter feel comfortable engaging in that process, we want to follow through on that and help that voter.”