Commentary: Voter rights are at risk in Charlotte

Voter rightsWhat happens if you show up to vote in Charlotte and are not on the checklist?  

Here is what should happen. According to Vermont Voter Rights, if you find your name is not on the list, the town clerk or presiding officer will immediately investigate and either add your name to the list or explain why you cannot be added. If the town clerk or presiding officer cannot make a determination on Election Day, you may vote by provisional ballot.

Here is what really happened on a recent Election Day (August 9) in Charlotte

A member of my family showed up at the local polling place to cast a vote in the primary elections. When he found that his name was not on the checklist he was surprised—he had registered years ago and had voted in Charlotte, although not recently.

The town clerk, Mary Mead, could not explain specifically why his name had been dropped, and she was unprepared and unwilling to investigate further. My husband witnessed this exchange between the prospective voter and the town clerk and subsequently asked the town clerk if she could provide a “provisional ballot” as stipulated in the Voter Rights document hanging on the wall nearby. The town clerk dismissed this request outright saying that she didn’t have any provisional ballots with her. She accused my husband of being a bully for asking why. The prospective (and previously registered) voter left without voting and without knowing why his name was not on the checklist.

I am deeply troubled by this. We all know the power of the “Keeper of the List” and the little insecurities we feel as we stand on the other side of the table waiting for our name to be found.  If we expect our name to be there and it isn’t, we are entitled by law to an immediate and thorough response to our concerns. This is the job of the town clerk. Her duties at the polls are spelled out in great detail in the Vermont Notice to Voters and Vermont Voter Rights. She signs this document and it hangs prominently displayed on the wall at the polls.  The process, if she were to follow it, safeguards and ensures maximum protection under the law of the right to vote. If we have a question, we are meant to speak up. In bold print it reads, “The Election Officials at the polling place are here to serve you. If you have any questions, or need assistance while voting, ask your town clerk or any election official to help you.”

Our town clerk, elected by all of us and paid well for her service, comes to the polls unprepared and is unwilling to answer key questions raised by voters. She makes no effort to “serve” those with questions and instead chases people away, leaving them feeling confused and disenfranchised. These are serious violations of her duties as town clerk.

It is alarming to realize that even when all the best laws are all in place to empower everyone to vote and to safeguard the democratic process, the unprofessional behavior of the “Keeper of the List” can make or break what actually happens at the polls.

Carol Snow