Seen and Not Heard

by Zeke Turner | 11/3/06 6:00am

If I remember correctly, the first time I ever voted was in fifth grade. I think I voted for myself to represent our class in Middle School Student Council. I lost the race, but I gained respect for our most fundamental right as citizens in a democracy: the franchise.

When I recently went to register to vote at the Hanover Town Clerk's Office in preparation for the upcoming midterm elections, I expected to walk in, show my passport and proof of domicile (conveniently given to me in Tindle Lounge one week before by the Office of Residential Life) and leave with a smile and a sense of patriotic service. Instead, I was told that I could be committing perjury by registering and left feeling pathetic and sad.

With the assistance of a benevolent lawyer and Michael Heslin '08, president of the College Democrats, I ultimately filed my registration form last Thursday. The Town Clerk had been able to discourage me from registering because I didn't understand the distinction between "residence" and "domicile" as defined by New Hampshire law. Basically, "domicile" is required for voting and "residence" is not. I can claim "domicile" in New Hampshire because, essentially, I spend most nights of the year here.

According to rumor, other students have faced more severe threats than perjury. In the past, students have been concerned about losing scholarships and health insurance. Other potential voters became concerned about jeopardizing grad school applications and other career choices -- all in addition to a $5,000 fine. The Dartmouth Free Press published an article on these scare tactics in October 2004, but for some reason they still plague students today. All of these threats are nothing more than propaganda spread by those in power who would be delighted to see students bite their tongues on Election Day.

I have never really liked the Town of Hanover. Even though Hanover would not exist as it does without Dartmouth College, it seems that it is official Hanover town policy to make life unpleasant for Dartmouth students. More often than not it seems that the Hanover Police are patrolling our streets to keep us scared, not safe. And whenever Hanover passes town laws that affect our lives, such as the one that eliminated Tubestock, the safety of Hanover always trumps the safety of Dartmouth students and their traditions. However, I don't blame Hanover for the roadblocks I encountered when attempting to vote; I blame Hanover for willingly perpetuating negative statewide attitudes about students' voting rights.

"We are the present and the future of politics and government in America," says Heslin. "Student activists today have the energy and numbers to take on the people at the top and the idealism to fight for what they believe in." Hanover High School echoes these values by enriching its students' lives with a battery of democratic practices in a deliberate move to emphasize the importance of democracy.

In January 2003, Gene Chandler, the Speaker of the New Hampshire State House of Representatives, said, "It is simply not right to allow college students to have any say in our elections in New Hampshire... We need to control that." New Hampshire House Bill 1566 aimed to "control" student voting by requiring voters to show a New Hampshire driver's license and sign a document claiming sole residency in the state. A trip to the DMV to buy a pricey driver's license is unreasonable for students, most of whom put a premium on time and money.

While HB 1566 was traversing the legislative process, the Student Assembly, led by Noah Riner '06, wrote a letter on behalf of Dartmouth's student body to all New Hampshire State Representatives and Senators expressing our dissatisfaction. On May 21, 2006, Gary Sorg, a Republican State Representative responded to Riner's letter. He called us "peevish children whose transparent desire is to use the franchise to mess up other people's action." Two days later, Governor Lynch vetoed HB 1566. The veto was never overridden.

But maybe Sorg was right. Sometimes I wonder if we are not more than a campus of children, securely cloistered on a hill in New Hampshire. We might toy with the idea of adulthood and responsibility as we peer through our bubble at the rest of the world, but really we want nothing more than to drink and study in peace. Maybe we are just children who should be seen and not heard.

Advertise your student group in The Dartmouth for free!