Is There a Safe Zone at the Polls?

The neutrality of our polling places is violated by the presence of voters' guides which purport to "explain" the constitutional amendments on the ballot.

Voter Guide in the Polling Place is One-Sided

By Larry Vogelman

President, NH Bar Association

The polling place is sacrosanct and should be a safe zone -- once you cross within a certain distance, no signs, no political buttons, no literature left behind in voting booths. There is an exception this year.

This year, voters will find stacks of papers in their polling places -- prepared, paid for and distributed at public expense – that masquerade as “Voter’s Guides” but in reality are just another form of one-sided electioneering.

These “Voter’s Guides” allow the legislative sponsors of proposed constitutional amendments appearing on the ballot to provide their own “explanations” of what the ballot questions say, and what effect these measures would have if passed.  The “Guide” for Question 2 is especially misleading.

Question 2 calls for amending the NH Constitution to give the Legislature the final say over the Judicial Branch in establishing rules for the courts. A number of organizations - The NH Bar Association, the League of Women Voters, numerous newspapers -- as well as former Governor Steve Merrill, former House Speaker Douglas Scamman, UNH School of Law Dean John Broderick, and current Superior Court Chief Justice Tina Nadeau, among others --think this is a radical change, and a bad idea. These organizations and individuals, joined by many others, both Republicans and Democrats, have spoken out about the perils of this amendment.

The “Voter’s Guide” written by the legislative sponsors offers no hint of the controversy, and instead suggests that the amendment to Part 2, Article 73-a merely “clarifies,” rather than changes, the relationship between the independent branches of government. “Guides” with this one-sided argument have been delivered to local election officials and may be distributed to voters at the polls.

Opponents of the amendment have written letters and essays, and spoken to broadcast media outlets; they have placed lawn signs and advertisements. But the opponents of this meddlesome amendment are at a disadvantage because supporters of Question 2 have the built-in advantage of the misleading literature that voters will find in the polling place. Voters should not be misled, especially within the “safe zone” of the polling place.

This is not a partisan issue – it is about preserving the checks and balances that are the foundation of our government.

Twice before, voters have been presented with similar attempts to give the legislature dominance over the courts, and both times the voters have rejected the amendment. We hope they will do so again.

Keep politics out of the courts – Vote “NO” on Question 2. Find out more about this ballot question at nhbar.org/publications/CACR26.asp

Larry Vogelman is president of the NH Bar Association for the 2012-13 year. A civil rights and criminal defense lawyer, he practices with the Nixon, Vogelman, Barry, Slawsky and Simoneau in Manchester.

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Meyer Scheister November 01, 2012 at 03:08 AM
As a teacher of writing and communications, you should appreciate more than anyone that this nation and state of laws is governed by the text of those laws, not by their interpretation via an unelected and unaccountable priesthood known as the Judiciary. If judicial tyranny is to be reined in by the people's elected representatives, I think that's a good thing - and one to be replicated in Washington.
Rick Watrous November 01, 2012 at 03:57 AM
Our founders valued an independent judiciary. From the NH Constitution: [Art.] 37. [Separation of Powers.] In the government of this state, the three essential powers thereof, to wit, the legislative, executive, and judicial, ought to be kept as separate from, and independent of, each other, as the nature of a free government will admit, or as is consistent with that chain of connection that binds the whole fabric of the constitution in one indissoluble bond of union and amity.
Old Pizza November 01, 2012 at 08:57 AM
There is nothing in the Voters' Guide that states or suggests that this amendment merely "clarifies" anything. The explanation given in the guide is perfectly clear - ............"if there is a conflict between a law and a court-established rule, the law prevails unless it is contrary to provisions of this Constitution." Yes, the amendment gives the legislature "concurrent power" to regulate the same matters by statute. And that's a good thing. The duty of the court is to interpret laws not to make them.
Dan Wise - NH Bar News November 01, 2012 at 02:30 PM
I appreciate all of the comments. As for the role of judges, it is precisely their job to interpret the law as it applies to changing circumstances or where the wording falls short of addressing a situation. The reason that the judicial branch was established as independent of the other two branches was to provide a forum that protects the rights of individuals, against the tyranny of the state, the tyranny of the majority and the passion of the moment.
Steve From NH November 01, 2012 at 04:25 PM
So you're for tyranny by the legislature?


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