Op-Ed: Where has the Party of Lincoln gone?
By Betty Tamposi and Jim Squires
March 29, 2017
Our families have flown the Republican flag since the Grand Old Party began more than a century and a half ago.
As “old-fashioned” New Hampshire Republicans, we were taught that conservatism was derived from the verb “conserve,” and so it should behave. If you ran your canoe into a rock and sprang a leak, you conserved it with some putty and climbed back in. If your LL Bean sweater got a hole, which it did around year sixteen, you conserved it with a patch. If your block of cheddar cheese grew some mold, you cut it off and carried on. That was the conservative way.
On the other hand, our Republican forbears taught that trying to “solve” a problem that doesn’t exist is a surefire way to create real problems instead – the furthest thing from Yankee commonsense. Spread the putty across the canoe when it isn’t needed, and you’ll only waste your putty and ruin your boots. Be sure it’s good and broke before you fix it.
That mantra could be applied to Senate Bill 3, the proposal backed by Senate Republicans and the Secretary of State to “fix” the imperceptible problem of voter fraud – and problematize New Hampshire elections in the process. Instead of letting the “First-in-the-Nation” primary state vie for first in the nation in voter turnout too, by conserving our decades-old system of Election Day registration, SB 3 establishes de facto literacy tests and threatens intimidation for eligible voters who register at the polls, all under the beguiling guise of “election integrity.”
Take, for example, the new registration form contained in SB 3. Not only must the unsuspecting registrant read the form’s two-page statement of legalese – good enough to befuddle a licensed attorney and election law expert, according to Senate testimony – but she must swear she understands it before she is allowed to vote. All as a long line forms behind her and she is late for work. Sounds like a literacy test to us.
If our unsuspecting citizen moved to a different address shortly before the election and lacks sufficient proof of said address, the responsibility is hers to bring documents she may not possess to her town or city clerk during working hours within ten days after Election Day (30 days when the office is open part-time), or copy and mail the documents at her own expense.
If she fails to proactively supply said documents in a timely manner – even if she is unable to obtain them because she lives at a shelter or her name does not appear on an official lease – the new bill authorizes government agents to come looking at her door.
Most disconcerting of all, SB 3 seems to suggest that a voter’s failure to prove her innocence by taking certain domicile “acts” will render her automatically guilty of voter fraud and subject to fines up to $5,000.
If that sounds to you more like the southern Dixiecrats or yore than the Party of Lincoln into which we were born, and in which we proudly served as New Hampshire elected representatives, you understand our concern.
Proponents of SB 3, and the president himself, tell us their motivation is merely to protect our elections from voter fraud. A worthy goal for conservatives and liberals alike. Yet when they are asked to supply more than a hint of evidence that such fraud exists, they are at a loss.
Busloads of Massachusetts voters showing up at our polls? “Shameful…baseless…fantasies” says one prominent New Hampshire Republican in response to the president’s repeated claim. “I’m not aware of [it]” adds the Republican governor, after echoing the president’s irresponsible allegations before Election Day. Even the Secretary of State and Attorney General have concluded there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in New Hampshire.
What, then, is the rationale behind SB 3? Lacking evidence of actual wrongdoing, the bill’s proponents tell us their aim is to counteract the public’s perception that voter fraud exists. But if that is indeed a problem, as certain polls suggest, the solution is simple enough: Republicans, from the president on down, who peddle such baseless claims must cease – and not just for the sake of truth.
Indeed, when leaders of the party of Lincoln use baseless claims to justify voting restrictions aimed at low-income, young, and minority citizens, they are needlessly forfeiting the battle for the true American majority. Why spend our energy trying to shut folks out when we could work to win them back instead? Let’s not empty a can of putty on a perfectly good canoe and ruin our boots.
That’s not to say that America’s elections couldn’t use a fix or two. Russian meddling and the Electoral College conundrum aside, Republican and Democratic voters universally bemoan America’s “elaborate influence-peddling scheme in which both parties conspire to stay in office by selling the country to the highest bidder,” to quote that “old-fashioned” Republican Senator John McCain.
The solution, as another old-time Republican, Senator Warren Rudman of New Hampshire, proposed, is to “drain the swamp” once and for all by replacing big money in politics with citizen-funded elections.
What better way to make the Grand Old Party great again?
Jim Squires of Hollis is a former Republican state senator. Betty Tamposi of New Castle is a former Republican state representative and Assistant Secretary of State under President George H.W. Bush.