Who’s Tracking Your NH Voting Habits To Tell Your Neighbors?

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Bob Charest
Why Should You Care NH

I’ve been shamed.

Oh, how shameful. I feel so … oh, what’s the word … embarrassed … no, that’s not it … peeved, maybe … unimpressed … yeah, that’s it.

Bob Charest

Bob Charest

Arriving in today’s mail was a nondescript white envelope from Sensible Solutions Coalition, 373 S. Willow St., Suite 446, Manchester, NH 03103. There was no phone number or email address anywhere on the envelope or in the enclosed one-page letter, otherwise I would have included that, too.

I was advised via red boldface type on the outside of the envelope, with a big red arrow pointing to it, that “IMPORTANT TAXPAYER INFORMATION ENCLOSED.”

Did I mention that this came from Sensible Solutions Coalition, 373 S. Willow St., Suite 446, Manchester, NH 03103? Try as I might, I didn’t come up with any information on this organization after a couple of quick searches. Maybe someone else will have a better result.

Well, much to my shame, in this letter, addressed to me, with a Notice Number of 78000168, was the admonishment: “WHAT IF YOUR FRIENDS, YOUR NEIGHBORS, AND YOUR COMMUNITY KNEW WHETHER YOU VOTED?”

Well, Sensible Solutions Coalition, 373 S. Willow St., Suite 446, Manchester, NH 03103, I don’t know that it would matter that much to them if you want to know the truth.

But then you took it a little further. There in chart form was my name in boldface and the names of nine of my closest and dearest neighbors (none of whom I know, by the way) listing if they or I voted or did not vote in the November 2012 general election, September 2014 primary election, or the November 2014 general election.

The news, I’m afraid, was not good for most of my neighbors. I missed the 2012 general election, according to the grim news, which is not like me. I must have had a good reason four years ago to forego giving President Obama a second term, but the reason escapes me now.

Now, I don’t know why my neighbors did not vote in some of the elections indicated. I’m sure they had their reasons, but darn it, Sensible Solutions Coalition is quite bothered by this fact.  Their letter says,

“Why do so many people fail to vote? We’ve been talking about this problem for years, but it only seems to get worse. This year, we’re taking a new approach. We’re sending this mailing to you, your friends, your neighbors, your colleagues at work, and your community members to publicize who does and does not vote.”

Well, Sensible Solutions Coalition, I would think New Hampshire Secretary of State William Gardner would take issue with your statement about the “problem” as you call it, getting worse.  He’s actually quoted in the paper today saying he expects a record turnout for Tuesday’s general election. He’s predicting more than 738,000 voters, or 72 percent of registered voters, will cast ballots.

To give you some perspective, turnout was 71 percent in the 2004 presidential election, 72 percent in 2008, and 70 percent in 2012 (the year all my neighbors now know I did not vote). The article further informs us that the average turnout around the U.S. in presidential election years is about 60 percent and – this must make the Sensible Solution Coalition people gasp – 40 percent in midterm elections!

I must say, however, that I think I got off easy on this public shaming business.

Earlier this year, the New Mexican newspaper reported that the New Mexico Republican Party sent a mailer to some of that state’s residents with the ominous message that their neighbors will know if they don’t vote for GOP candidates this year. Their mailing was more creative. It showed a photo of a woman peering out a window from behind blinds, with the caption, “When Democrats win the election and you didn’t do your part to stop it … Your neighbors will know.” The last four words are printed in large, black letters, all uppercase.

On the back of the envelope is an aerial photo of houses with check marks printed above them. The caption: “Do your part in this election. After all, voting is a matter of public record.”

If I lived in New Mexico and received this mailing, what would I suspect the message is? That I should go to the polls and vote for candidates supported by the New Mexico Republican Party? That seems unlikely. I’d be more likely to change my party affiliation.

Yes, voter registration records and whether a voter has voted are public records, but now as always, how someone votes on a ballot is confidential.

In February, a Nashua woman said she received a similar letter from the New Hampshire State Voter Program just before the Presidential Primary election. The wording was exactly the same as in the letter I received. Several voters contacted both the Secretary of State and the Attorney General’s Office to complain, and according to an article at the time in the New Hampshire Union Leader, the AG’s office was investigating.

 

Some interesting observations were offered at the time for why some group would send such a mailing. One explanation was that it is intended to get voters in a certain political party to turn out and vote for the candidate at the top of the ticket. In fact, the campaign for Ted Cruz was reportedly using a similar mailing in Iowa to turn out voters.

Whatever works, I guess.

What we should all learn from this is that your voting records are public information. That is, the record of you voting is public. Who you voted for is not.

I suspect the turnout nationwide on Tuesday will make the Sensible Solutions Coalition very proud. They do say in their letter that after Tuesday’s election, they “intend to mail an updated chart. You and your friends, your neighbors and other people you know will all know who voted and who did not vote.”

Many men and women have put themselves in harm’s way, many of them making the ultimate sacrifice, to protect this precious right … so I can assure the shameful shamers that I do not take this right lightly. Thanks for your letter. Please do not write again.

Bob Charest has served as a consultant to InDepthNH.org for the past year, assisting founder Nancy West with editing and writing foundation materials. In his next column, he’ll explore more ways information is being kept on us all, including some ways that might be helpful to the average person.

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