Splaine: Improving New Hampshire voter confidence in local and state elections

·4 min read

One advantage about getting older in a democracy is that you can log up a lot of visits to the voting booth. My math tells me that I have voted in 96 separate elections – give or take a couple. That's 27 municipal elections, 14 presidential elections, 14 "off-year" elections, 27 September primary elections, and 14 of our First-in-the-Nation Presidential Primary elections.

Jim Splaine
Jim Splaine

That's a lot of votes of choices for Presidents, Congresspeople, U.S. Senators, State Senators and Representatives, City Councilors, School Board members, Police and Fire Commissioners, election officials when they are on the ballot, even City Charter revision candidates when we did that in 1988.   

The real operative words of the previous paragraph are "votes of choices for" since when we vote, the choice is ours.  And as so many political commercials have said, "if you don't vote the choice is theirs."

Unfortunately, many voters don't have confidence that their vote matters or will even be counted properly, so they don't make the effort.  And when people lack confidence in the election process itself, even fewer vote.

It was that concern which motivated New Hampshire Secretary of State David Scanlan to commission a group to consider ways to improve confidence in elections.  His "Special Committee on Voter Confidence" is on a statewide tour to undertake the task he has assigned to it, stated in his simple mission statement: "The Special Committee on Voter Confidence will work to identify root causes of voter confidence decline and make recommendations to reverse the trend."

The Secretary created an eight-member commission, and asked if I would serve.  I agreed when he listed the members of the board which has people with wide and diverse interests and political philosophies:

Former Member of Congress and Ambassador to Denmark Richard Swett is co-chair along with Attorney Bradford Cook, longtime chair of the state's Ballot Law Commission, and a good friend dating to our years at UNH long ago. Others include Andrew Georgevits, chair of the Concord Republican City Committee; Amanda Merrill, former N.H. State Representative and State Senator; Douglass Teschner, former Peace Corps Director in Ukraine; Olivia Zink, Executive Director of the non-profit Open Democracy in Concord and City of Franklin Councilor; and Ken Eyring, co-founder of the Government Integrity Project.

Already we held two informational meetings in Concord, and embarked on a listening tour that included a six-hour meeting at the Town Council Chambers in Derry Municipal Hall (a really neat room!) this past week, with meetings upcoming in Portsmouth on Tuesday, June 7th, Laconia in July, and the North Country soon afterwards.

In addition to hearing from representatives of the N.H. Attorney General's Office about legal rights for voters that eliminate barriers for our physically challenged residents, and processes for voting by absentee and mail-in balloting by military and out-of-country voters, the board is going to review the mechanics and security of the vote counting machines that are used in numerous cities and towns. City and town clerks are also welcomed to speak about their ideas and experiences, as is any citizen who wishes to testify.

Anyone with concerns or ideas about our election processes is invited to participate in the sessions, or to write to the group.  For information and details of the work of the commission, visit the Secretary of State Website at sos.nh.gov and https://www.sos.nh.gov/elections/information/notices/commission-voter-confidence  All meetings are open to the public, and recorded and viewable.

There are over 300 voting locations throughout the state, filled on Election Day by volunteers from every community. The voting and counting process is decentralized, and is accomplished by each of the cities and towns where elections are held. Portsmouth's City Clerk Kelli Barnaby is one of the best and longest-serving election officials. With dozens of our neighbors she organizes the city's five wards for every election cycle, guaranteeing transparent and accurate counts. Her office and voter information can be found at https://www.cityofportsmouth.com/cityclerk/voting-information

More information about voting laws can be found at https://www.sos.nh.gov/elections

Today's Quote: "Our volunteer city and town election officials are absolutely heroes." - Legendary former House Leader and State Senator Peter Burling of Cornish, speaking at the Derry Town Hall meeting, May 24, 2022.

Next Time:  Support the Police Budget and New Building.

Jim Splaine has served variously since 1969 as Portsmouth assistant mayor, Police Commissioner, and School Board member, as well as N.H. state senator and representative. He can be reached at jimsplaineportsmouth@gmail.com

This article originally appeared on Portsmouth Herald: Splaine: Improving NH voter confidence in local and state elections