'Sending a message to the State - and the nation - that in Lyndeborough, democracy counts. Literally.'...
By Nancy Tobi on 3/14/2010, 12:12pm PT  

Guest Blogged by Nancy Tobi of Democracy for New Hampshire

Any citizen in New Hampshire can bring a petition article to his or her Town Warrant by securing the signatures of at least 25 registered voters. The article is then added to the Town Warrant to be voted on in Town meeting.

On Saturday, the citizens of Lyndeborough, NH, resoundingly approved enacting into the town's laws the following warrant article regarding the counting of votes. I hope that NH citizens all around the state will enact the same law in their towns at next year's Town Meetings.

Here is the petition citizens signed to add the article below regarding the counting of votes to the Town Warrant...

To see if the Town of Lyndeborough will prohibit vote counting concealed from the human eye by method of computers or otherwise, and require that all methods used for sorting and counting the votes in an election be publicly observable for full citizen oversight of the entire voting system (with the exception of the voter's casting of the secret ballot).

Whereas the New Hampshire Bill of Rights and our State Constitution have guaranteed the right to vote since 1784, guaranteeing that it may not be administered in a discriminatory fashion:

Whereas the New Hampshire Constitution reinforces the U.S. Constitutional guarantee of a republican form of government, in which citizens are understood to possess inalienable rights and to be the ultimate source of all legitimate power so that citizens are sovereign and not any king, as defined in Article 8 of the New Hampshire Constitution:

Whereas Article 32 of the New Hampshire Constitution mandates observable vote counting in open public meeting as a mechanism for ensuring that our elected public servants receive the consent of the governed via open and honest elections administered under full citizen control and oversight:

Whereas the Voting Rights Act Section 8 stipulates that vote tabulation must be observable:

Whereas each New Hampshire city and town has the individualized legal right to decide which State-approved voting system it will use, and whereas currently, other than the statewide disability solution mandated by the Help America Vote Act, the two State-approved voting systems available to New Hampshire cities and towns are publicly observable, paper ballot hand count systems or paper ballot optical scan systems, which conceal the vote count from the public eye:

Therefore we, the undersigned citizens of the town of Lyndeborough determine to protect our rights to have our votes sorted and counted in open meeting as required by the New Hampshire Constitution by adding the following article to our town warrant:

Shall the Town of Lyndeborough prohibit vote counting concealed from the human eye by method of computers or otherwise, and require that all methods used for sorting and counting the votes in an election be publicly observable for full citizen oversight of the entire voting system (with the exception of the voter's casting of the secret ballot)?

At the Town Meeting, I presented the following argument in favor of passage...

In Lyndeborough today we count every ballot by hand on election night in full public view. Our counting teams have 2 people doing the count and tally and 1-2 others observing to make sure that the people counting and tallying the ballots don't make any errors during the count. These are the kinds of public checks and balances envisioned by the Founders to ensure our system of democracy.

Lyndeborough is one of 144 towns in New Hampshire that still conduct hand count elections. The rest of the state uses optical scanning computers to count the ballots. Some of those towns have chosen to use computers because they have too many registered voters in a single polling place, which makes counting by hand impractical. Others are SB2 towns who have given up their town meetings in favor of putting their town warrant on the ballot, which makes complicated ballots and also makes hand counting impractical. Those towns would need to make some changes in order to go back to public hand counts.

But using computers to count ballots is expensive. Each of those voting machines costs around $6000 to buy, then you need to pay to properly store them and also pay for the programming and servicing. Computerized elections can be budget busters. Last time I looked into this, Lyndeborough didn't even have a line item on our budget for elections. We have community volunteers counting our ballots in full public view and it doesn't cost the town a dime.

But the most troubling thing about computerized elections is that nobody can see the votes being counted. The electrons doing the count are invisible. Neither the machines nor the people who programmed those electrons are anonymous private employees who have no oath of allegiance to the State of NH.

The NH Constitution says that we shall sort and count our votes in open meeting. In full public view. NH's hand count elections, like ours here in Lyndeborough, meet the Constitutional mandate. NH's computerized elections - now counting the votes for 85% of the state's registered voters - do not.

It is fitting that Lyndeborough should take the lead by becoming the first town in the State of NH to pass a town article ensuring for ourselves, our children, our grandchildren, and their grandchildren, that we will always honor the Constitutional mandate to sort and count our votes in open meeting, and that we will never allow concealed vote counting by computers or by any other method in our town.

Now you may be thinking why should we even have to do this? We will never go to computerized elections. Well that may be so. But there are plenty of other folks in small towns in NH who may have thought things wouldn't change too. Of the 112 computerized election cities and towns, ten have less than 2000 registered voters, and of those 2 have less than 1500 and another 2 have less than 1000. Another 17 have less than 3000 registered voters. Those towns could easily count their ballots by hand but they chose to buy computers instead.

There may come a time when our town officials also think that is the way to go too. But we can defend our Constitution and our democracy today just as we did when the Lyndeborough Artillery, the longest standing artillery in the nation, sent our cannon down to fight for freedom in the Civil War.

And when we pass this warrant article protecting our public vote counts, we will send a message to the State of NH - and the nation - that in Lyndeborough Democracy Counts. Literally.

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Here's what hand-counting and transparent, citizen-overseeable, participatory democracy looks like in Lyndeborough, NH, and ought to look like in the entire country...

"Mr. Moderator, I have looked up the road and down the road and neither on foot nor horseback, nor one-horse sleigh do I see a registered voter. Therefore I move that the polls be closed..."



Cross-posted at Democracy for New Hampshire...

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Nancy Tobi is best known as a national leader in the voting rights movement for her seminal work exposing the dangers and fallacies in various election reform efforts past, present and future. She is co-founder, former Chair, and website editor for Democracy for New Hampshire, founder and Chair of the NH Fair Elections Committee, Adviser to Election Defense Alliance and the Election Transparency Coalition and the author of "Hands-on Elections: An Information Handbook for Running Real Elections, Using Real Paper Ballots, Counted by Real People".

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For more on "Democracy's Gold Standard: Hand-Marked, Hand-Counted Paper Ballots, Publicly Tabulated at Every Polling Place in America" please see Brad Friedman's op-ed written for the Commonweal Institute here...