October 15, 2004, 12:05 P.M.
A Vote is a Terrible Thing to Waste: I have been having some interesting conversations with people I know to be self-described "independent" voters. By describing themselves as "independent," these folks really mean that they do not have a straight party affiliation and that they tend to vote for a candidate and not a party. I guess in that sense, you could say that I am also an independent, although I consistently register as a Democrat.
Sometimes being an informed and responsible voter means leaving a box on the ballot blank. Voting should be an informed choice between candidates or issues. There is no requirement that voters make a choice between candidates who whey donít know or donít like, and there is no requirement that you support or oppose an issue without understanding the consequences of its passage. Partial ballots do count.
This is particularly significant in the case of special ballot questions and initiatives. Such fundamental questions as whether or not to amend the State Constitution should no be made for political reasons. Thankfully, most such initiatives have not historically been successful in New Hampshire because people donít generally vote in favor of such changes without understanding the consequences. There is also no straight ticket mechanism for addressing this type of question. Each voter must make a choice and therefore the initiative is more fairly considered.
The straight ticket vote is as bad, or worse, than an uninformed vote. The straight ticket vote makes it easy for voters to elect and reelect candidates based on their party affiliation, rather than based on their stance on an issue or their record of previous service. It also makes it too easy for candidates to get elected without ever taking a position or explaining their stance on critical issues. The straight ticket choice also removes the responsibility of informed citizenship from the process.
It concerns me to see signs advertising straight tickets. Local Republicans, for example, have signs up advertising their slate of 5 candidates for the State House of Representatives. The Republican or Democratic party of today is not that of your parents or grandparents. If you pay attention to the message of individual candidates you may find that they have a lot in common with your views, regardless of their party affiliation. Certainly a committed public servant like Judy Reever, who brings twenty years of local school board experience, a chairmanship of the State School Boards Association and a lifetime of commitment to her family and her community to the table, is a worthy candidate for the house regardless of the side of the aisle she sits on.
Some members the current state delegation were put into office largely because they were on the right side of ticket. They had vigorous opposition in 2000 and 2002, yet they were elected without showing up for a public forum or debate and in some cases without actively campaigning. The most notable exception in the 2000 contest, and in the current race, is Ralph Rosen who, despite the lack of a vigorous opposition in his last run, still continued to show up and campaign. I donít agree on a lot of issues with Ralph, but I admire his sense of responsibility. No one deserves to win an election based on their party affiliation alone.
Last year at his inauguration, Mayor Fraser talked about accountability on the part of our legislative delegation. Election Day is the day when accountability comes home to roost. Glenn Dewhirst missed 54 of 120 votes in the House last year and a substantial number of session days. This was not Mr. Dewhirstís first trip to Concord and his record was no better the first time around. Between stints in Concord, Dewhirst was elected to the Laconia School Board and he failed to show up much there. Based on his record it is difficult to see how he could have been elected, except for the straight ticket. He did not make the final cut this time around. Perhaps his record caught up with him in the primary.
The number of votes required to overcome the Republican straight ticket vote in Laconia alone is daunting to any candidate and it should not be so. Good candidates like Judy Reever, Peter Brunette, and the other Democrats should not be hamstrung because of their party affiliation.
All in all the candidates for the house this year are more involved than in the past, but as voters in Laconia we need to be asking more of our state representatives. You can the voting records of the current delegation online at www.gencourt.state.nh.us/ie/rollcall/houserollcallsearch.asp?sessionyear=2004. Before voting for anyone, ask what they intend to do for Laconia on the court house issue, on the statewide property tax, on education funding and on any other issues of interest to our community. It is not enough to be on the right side of the ticket. Make sure that you know who your candidates are and how they stand on issues important to you and your community before you cast your vote.
Use your vote wisely. Donít vote the straight ticket, the way your parents did or they way you always do. A vote is a terrible thing to waste.