- Tom Eastman
Pols, Polls and Voter Registration
One month remains until the first-in-the-nation primary.
With President Jimmy Carter having decisively defeated Senator Edward Kennedy in Iowa, and former United Nations Ambassador George Bush having beaten Ronald Reagan, this year's New Hampshire primary has taken on even greater importance than ever before. Over the next five weeks leading up to the February 26th primary, candidates from both parties will be visiting the Granite State with more frequency in an attempt to woo the voters to their side.
Carroll County voters will undoubtedly receive their chances to meet the candidates as the campaign winds down. George Bush is scheduled to appear at the Red Jacket Inn on February 4th for an informal get-together and speech. Illinois Rep. Phil Crane was in the Mt. Washington Valley last week looking to drum up support for his Republican campaign, and other candidates should follow.
In the meantime, the various local campaign committee organizers have been putting their schedules into higher gear in an effort to arouse voter interest. Dick Badger, of Badger Realty, is the Jackson Chairman of the Reagan for President Committee. The Reagan campaign plan will be to begin radio and television advertising toward the end of the month and newspaper advertising by February 1st. Badger noted that phone surveys to registered Republicans and Independents will be used on a limited basis after the first of the month as well. "The Reagan strategy has been not to push too early in the campaign, but not come on strong as the primary nears," Badger said.
Fred Leighton of Carroll Reed explained that the Bush campaign has been bolstered by their candidate's strong showing in the Iowa caucuses Tuesday night. The Bush Campaign is also using telephone surveys to contact voters in Carroll County, though on a limited basis. "We don't want to burden people with a lot of calls, though we will be contacting some Republican and Independent voters. We're fortunate to have Bush coming back to Carroll County soon. We're also making an effort to inform people how to go about registering to vote," Leighton explained.
While Reagan and Bush are now seen as the two top contenders for the Republicans, Tennessee Senator Howard Baker's chances are seen as being somewhat slimmer. State representative Norman Desjardins of Redstone is the Carroll County chairman for the Baker for president Committee. Desjardins sad that the Baker organization is strong in Carroll County, but admitted that the House minority speaker's campaign could benefit from a visit by the candidate to the north.
"The Baker campaign has concentrated on telephoning Republicans and independents in southern New Hampshire, but we need to get our candidate to make more visits to the state. We're hopeful that he will make a stop here before the primary," Desjardins said. Representatives for John Connally's campaign recently opened the former Texas governor's campaign office in Conway, and also will be contacting voters by phone.
As for the Democrats, president Carter has been preoccupied by trouble on the international scene and has done little campaigning, leaving it all up to Vice President Walter Mondale. Ted Kennedy's organization is reported to be regarding the New Hampshire primary as a must win along with the Maine caucus the week before and the Massachusetts and Vermont primaries thereafter. The third contender, California Governor Jerry Brown, will be out to prove that he can do better than his poor showing in the Iowa caucus.
An essential aspect of the political scene is voter registration. Residents of Bartlett, Jackson and Conway should find it relatively easy to do so if they haven't registered yet. Furthermore, as Desjardins, who in addition to being the Baker chairman for Carroll County is also one of the three supervisors of the Conway checklist, stated, there's no excuse for not voting. "It's really one of the few things that you can do that doesn't cost you a penny," Desjardins noted.
Desjardins and the other two Conway supervisors, Cheryll Grindle and Betty Newton, use three basic criteria in determining who is eligible to vote and be put on the town's voter checklist. Anyone 18 years of age of older is eligible if they can prove they have a legal residence in the town and that they actually live in the town. Proving the first is often much more easily done that the other two factors, according to Desjardins.
"It's very difficult to determine who is actually a resident. We ask whether the applicants have homes in the towns, and if they have any children, we ask what schools they attend in the area. It's basically a judgement call on the part of the supervisors," Norm explained.
In years past, town checklist supervisors were required by state law to personally interview all prospective voters at two sessions held before each election. Lawmakers felt, however, that the old process made it hard for people to register to vote. During the 1977-78 session of the legislature, the general court voted in a new law which allowed the town clerks to accept the applications from the voters during the clerks' business hours. The new law thus made it easier for people to apply, but deprived the supervisors of the chance to ask the applicants questions concerning their eligibility. Desjardins said that he thinks that this is a problem.
"As supervisors of the checklist, our responsibility is to qualify voters to make sure that they are local residents. In a presidential campaign, it really isn't quite as important as it is at a town meeting, but we still try to ensure that the voters are eligible," Desjardins said.
Once a prospective voter has applied at the Bartlett, Jackson or Conway Town Clerks' offices, the application is then reviewed by the supervisors. If eligible, the person's name is listed on the town's checklist which is then required by state law to be posted at two locations within a town prior to the election or town meeting.
Residents have until 10 days before the February 26th presidential primary to register to vote, but would be well advised to do so by February 15th, since the 16th falls on a Saturday when town offices will be closed.
Voters need not declare themselves as members of either the Democrat or Republican party when they register to vote. When they go to the voting tents on February 26th, however, they will be required to select either a Democrat or Republican ballot and declare themselves as members of either party. According to Desjardins of Conway and Gail Paine of Bartlett, it is at this time that confusion about the voting process usually begins.
If a person has never voted before or if they are registered as an Independent, we tell them that they must declare themselves as either a Republican or Democrat, since New Hampshire operates under a two party system," Desjardins said. "This tends to upset some people, to the point that I sometimes have to call the people on the phone to explain that they may have themselves designated as Independents once again after the primary, but that they must declare themselves as either a Democrat or Republican in order to receive one of the two ballots to vote."
Persons who need to register to vote would be anyone who has never registered before, persons who have moved away from a town but now have returned, or those who have recently turned 18 years old.
The deadline for changing party affiliation passed on December 12th for the upcoming presidential primary. In other words, if a voter registered as a Democrat in the 1978 general election and hasn't changed his affiliation since then, he will be registered on the town checklist as a Democrat for the primary and will be given only a Democratic ballot. For the gubernatorial primaries in September, persons wishing to change their party affiliation must do do by early June.
Desjardins commented that he expects a larger turnout this year since it is a presidential primary. "You're liable to see a larger transient vote in a national election, and the town had also grown significantly since the last presidential election."
Conway town clerk John Stevens estimates that the checklist for Conway now contains approximately 4,300 names In February of 1976, that figure was 3,541 persons. the latest figure is more significant when it is remembered that a New Hampshire Superior Court decision last year removed the names of approximately 300 Madison voters from the town's checklist.
"In the last year, I've seen an increase in the number of young people registering to vote, many of whom are registering as Independents," Stevens stated. "It used to be that if you weren't a Republican up here, you didn't let anyone know about it, but that's changing."
Gail Paine, one of the three supervisors for the town of Bartlett, also noted that there has been an increase in the number of persons registering as Independents in that town. "There are approximately 1200 people on Bartlett's checklist now, or 250 more than in the last presidential primary four years ago. Of the new people registering, I'd guess that 20% are Republicans, 10% Democrat, and the remaining 70 percent are Independents of all ages," Mrs. Paine stated.
The town of Jackson had 399 persons' names on the checklist as of the town meeting in March 1979. That figure is now 413. Of that total, 200 are registered as Republicans, 138 as Independents, and 75 as Democrats.
Those Independent voters may become especially important in the February 26th primary, especially between Republicans Ronald Reagan and George Bush, and Democrats Jimmy Carter and Ted Kennedy. The race has begun.