The O'Brien legislature made voting more difficult in our state, placed another mandate on already struggling communities, and tried to ban military members and students from voting in New Hampshire.
On July 4, 2013 124 individuals from 57 countries were naturalized in a ceremony at Strawberry Banke in Portsmouth. There will be a comparable number today in 2014.
Last year I had the distinct honor and privilege of representing the District One Congressional Office and to shake every single individual's hand at the conclusion of the ceremony. The warmth of every one of those handshakes, the excitement on their faces, their carriage and the pride with which their families celebrated their accomplishment, said all there was to say about how each felt about becoming an American citizen.
If you have ever talked to someone from a country in which they had no voice and no control over their own destiny, they would tell you that one of the most important freedoms they now have as a citizen of the United States of America is the freedom to vote. It is not unusual that these newly minted citizens, who have had to learn our history and our civics (and frequently demonstrate a better grasp than many native-born) to attain citizenship, often hold the franchise more dearly than those of us able to exercise it by right of birth.
Those who come to our shores seeking full membership into our society and civic life had the way paved for them by many before them. While our fore-fathers fought and died for the rights to self-govern, at the time they didn't necessarily see universal suffrage as a legal or moral right. It took decades for women, who were often treated violently and regarded as mentally unstable, to obtain the right to vote. Later, it took more years for Black Americans to win the unfettered right to vote.
Today those voting rights are under attack in more than half the states in this country. Although the courts have now entered the fray and have, in a number of instances, ruled against more restrictive voting laws, there continues to be a concerted effort by Republican majority legislatures in these states to erect more barriers to voting -- despite there being no objective evidence of systematic voter fraud or abuse.
Under the O'Brien reign there were a number of attempts to strip students and military personnel residing in New Hampshire of their legal right to vote. In the final analysis legislation requiring restrictive voter ID was passed over Governor Lynch's veto. The NH Clerk's Association, among others, argued against these bills that solved a non-existent problem, saying they would lead to long lines at the polls and place a financial burden on our communities.
So, How Did Our Side Do?
Election officials and town clerks have lauded the current legislature's postpone of one of the most burdensome provisions of the new law, that of requiring that a photo be taken of anyone showing up at the polls during elections without a photo ID. These officials argue the law is unclear and that questions remain as to whose responsibility it is to take these photos as well as who is going to pay for it. Further, they say this places an undue burden on town officials during an already very busy time at elections.
The current legislature has placed a two year hold on these provisions to ensure both the integrity of our elections as well as the preservation of the right to vote by all those eligible to do so as any underlying issues are studied.
Steps You Can Take Today to Prevent a 2010 Replay
There are 127 days to the November 4, 2014 general elections. Each action you take between now and then can determine the difference between re-electing a responsive/responsible group of legislators or a return to the destructive policies of 2011-2012. Here are some proactive steps you can take today:
- Visit the NH Secretary of State's website here to see who will be on the ballot for your House and Senate districts. Look up information on each candidate so that you can share this with friends, family, co-workers and neighbors.
- Contact candidates to let them know you will host a sign on your property. You would be surprised at how effective it is to let your neighbors know you are supporting particular candidates.
- Ask candidates what you can do to help.
In the words of Franklin Roosevelt: Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people and the only way they could do this is by not voting.
Ensure that doesn't happen by committing to vote today in the September 9, 2014 primary and the November 4, 2014 general election. Mark your calendars now, then reach out to others you know to encourage them to register, if they haven't already, and to make the same commitment to vote.
PS: Don't miss the diary section below. For the Diary: Memories from the days of the O'Brien legislature:
They're foolish like I was ..Voting as a liberal...that's what kids do....They lack life experience and they just vote their feelings. Bill O'Brien, in justifying how he was going to correct that by taking away legal rights to vote. (It is noteworthy that, according to Karl Rove, "As people do better, they start voting as Republicans--unless they have too much education and vote Democratic..." So perhaps it isn't youth, but rather too much education.)
If you are interested in reading more about the evidence, or lack thereof, of voter fraud, one source can be found here.
Former Speaker O'Brien (who wants to return to that position) has repeatedly, and most recently said in June 30 FB post, that his top agenda to the upcoming legislative session is the deceivingly labeled "Right-to-Work" legislation that has been vetoed by every New Hampshire legislature and governor for the past several decades until the O'Brien days. For an indepth review of the myths and the facts about this legislation see Media Matters analysis here.
A return to the O'Brien reign will clearly see continued efforts to establish higher barriers to voting, to reduce workers' voices and drastic cuts to higher education (the funding of which O'Brien has said is "insulating an inefficient industry.")
(NOTE: While no Speaker or legislative body is directly responsible for the remarks or conduct of individual members, it is noteworthy that the O'Brien legislature was awash with members who thought such comments acceptable and/or members who displayed truly bizarre behavior for even an ordinary person, never mind someone in a position of writing our laws. It is the aggregate of these that speak to the core and the leadership of that particular legislative body. More on this with each future edition.)