Troy's Take: Falmouth School Committee Wrong to Remove Voting in Public Schools
By: Troy Clarkson, December 10, 2013
I’ve been to Dixville Notch. It is an inspiring civics lesson unto itself.
The charming, scenic village in northern New Hampshire, home of the venerable Balsams resort, is renowned for being the first in the nation to vote for president of the United States. An entire room is dedicated to this distinction at the resort. Dixville’s proud citizenry cherish and celebrate the fact that voters go to this locale before any other in these United States to exercise that treasured right to vote.
I was up in Dixville Notch a few years back on a golfing trip with several buddies from Falmouth; we spent some time in the mini-museum they have set up to commemorate dozens of elections and marveled at the civic engagement and pride of this community of less than 20 residents (12 in the 2010 census). They take their right to vote for what it is—a privilege that has been earned, defended, fortified, and secured—again and again and for generations, so that proud citizens can choose how they are governed and the people who govern.
I’d like to schedule a trip to the Balsams and bring along superintendent Bonny Gifford and the school committee. Maybe by seeing, by being reminded, how truly special our democracy is, they might reverse their recent decision to close their doors to our citizens.
It appears that they may have lost a bit of that sense of the sanctity of the ability to vote in our free society. Their recent decision to evict the voters from schools in Teaticket, East Falmouth, and downtown at Morse Pond School is an unfortunate example of government by petition, where a vocal minority forces a policy change (and, in this case, an ill-advised one) based on a reaction to an incident, rather than on a thorough and thoughtful approach.
I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment that the safety of our children is paramount. I also concur that in today’s unpredictable and unfortunately randomly violent society, we have to sometimes take extraordinary precautions to keep our kids safe. However, I also agree with our experienced and talented town clerk Michael Palmer’s assertion that we can balance the imperative of school safety with the mandate of voter access. For many of our citizens, voting is the only chance they get to see our schools; it’s a few times a year opportunity to see the working value of nearly half of our tax dollars. He suggested a great compromise in closing school the day of elections, which would address the issue of safety while preserving neighborhood voting access. The answer was no. The school committee members are elected by all of our residents, not just the hundred or so who signed the petition that led to the eviction.
Don’t the rest of us have a say?
The decision to expel voters from these three schools was in reaction to an incident witnessed by a parent when two voters engaged in “an ugly altercation” at Teaticket School. So, let me get this straight. A couple of passionate voters (don’t we need more of them?) engage in a disagreement, and as a result, access to all voters is revoked? If the altercation were between two parents dropping off their kids at school, would drop-offs be banned? This kind of reactionary government is a slippery slope that lends credence to the emotion-not-facts trend that is sweeping our society and taking the place of sound, reasoned debate. Falmouth is better than that.
Our school committee comprises dedicated and respected volunteers. I have friends among their ranks. They care about our community and are there for the right reasons; there isn’t a throttlebottom among them. I think they just got this one wrong.
(Mr. Clarkson may be contacted at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @TroyClarkson59.)