After defeat, let’s take another look at vote counting
The following voting rights article was defeated at the Jaffrey Town Meeting on March 15 by a 77-24 vote. I encourage citizens in other towns to contact me if they believe these rights guaranteed by our N.H. Constitution are important to protect.
Warrant Article 32 read, We recognize and affirm: Jaffrey voters have a fundamental and inherent right to an anonymous ballot cast in secret in all elections. All citizens and election officials in our town share a fundamental right and responsibility to verify and ensure that ballots are counted and reported accurately.
We create government to protect our rights. Voting rights are fundamental, the basis of self-government and require the highest level of protection by local and state government. These were our rights before 2003 when Jaffrey chose to buy the AccuVote computer. They are still our rights today. No one can take them away from us.
Our earliest citizens distrusted centralized power and gave a great deal of thought about who should count the votes. They considered the possibilities of town clerk, selectmen, judges, secretary of state, state treasurer and counters chosen by the House of Representatives before deciding on an “impartial” moderator in each community in the presence of selectmen, town clerk and public. Jaffrey is responsible to make sure the count was right, for our town, our state, our nation and our world. That amendment to the 1784 constitution was ratified in Town Meetings across the state in 1792 and has never been changed since.
All legitimate law is based on the consent of the people and is consistent with our constitution. A basic principle of law says for every right, there is a legal duty.
Since 1792, it has been the legal duty of the moderator to make sure votes are counted and reported accurately. But it’s also up to all of us here to make sure the count is true for all of our votes. Trust but verify. Doesn’t matter if we count the votes by hand or computer. Same law. Same shared responsibility.
In 2003, the Jaffrey Select Board recommended we buy the AccuVote computer to make things easier for our election officials. I agreed without knowing what questions to ask, what our voting rights were or the particular vulnerabilities of this technology.
Many more people are aware of these vulnerabilities today, and, to put it succinctly from testimony given recently in Concord, unlike ATM transactions that give receipts, “A voter has no recourse, no direct knowledge whether the vote was counted.”
Here’s how one New Hampshire moderator solved the problem: Wally Fries from Danville understood the vulnerabilities of the technology and always oversaw hand counts of one to three contests every election to check the computer count. One might have been a close race, another a high-stakes contest most vulnerable to tampering.
This way, he was fulfilling the spirit and intent of our New Hampshire constitution and was reasonably sure the count was accurate for his town — his legal duty. Select Board, town clerk and citizens could have the same assurance in accordance with their rights and responsibilities.
Other towns are also doing this. It’s not the only solution, maybe not even the best one, but it protects voters’ right in those towns to know that the results reported by their government are true. Those towns are fulfilling their responsibility to the rest of us.
This has to start at the town level, because frankly, the state has failed to protect our voting rights and Concord politics gets in the way of doing what’s right for the people on this issue.
Compare this with Concord’s protection of gun owners’ constitutional rights: 1. Gun advocates know their rights; 2. Speak forcefully for them in Concord and Washington and; 3. Have the money behind them to be heard. With voting rights, the money is on the other side, with the election industry. If we voters don’t know our rights, we can’t advocate for them.
In Town Meeting, we often allow voice votes and waive our right to a secret, anonymous ballot. But five voters can request a secret ballot on any article. All votes are counted in public as the law requires.
Citizens of the Revolutionary War generation, including my ancestors, guaranteed these rights for us. If you value them as much as I do, please inform yourself and contact me, to protect and preserve them for future generations.
Deborah Sumner lives in Jaffrey and can be reached at 532-8010. She has advocated for voting rights at the state and local level since 2008.