Sunday, March 13, 2016

A Lesson in Direct Democracy

New Hampshire Town Meeting

Every presidential election, New Hampshire politics is spotlighted through its first-in-the-nation primary.  This week I learned why so many of us vote and are involved in politics - enough to care that the first primary is held here.

Yesterday I participated in my first Hopkinton town meeting.  I expected it to be held at the local 200-year-old town hall.  Instead, it was held at the high school.  Why?  Because the town hall could not accommodate the 3,000+ people who attended.  In a town of 5,500, those odds are pretty good.

But it gets better.  According to our town clerk, at least 80% of my town votes in every election.  That's not 80% of registered voters, but 80% of the population.  That means voter registration has to be even higher, perhaps in the 90 percentile range.

How does New Hampshire do it?  Well, I believe its based on their tax system.  In New Hampshire, the only individual taxes are property taxes, and these are controlled locally.  (I have yet to delve into the tax code to figure out how the state gets revenues, as there is also no sales tax, but I believe it comes through business taxes, liquor sales, and fees.)

Locally as in directly in the towns.  As a resident of Hopkinton, I live in a small democracy of 5,500 and am able to directly influence the amount of taxes I will pay this year. Yesterday, I voted on whether to increase my taxes or not for certain discrete projects - one for improving roads (and building sidewalks for my pram - hurray!) and another for a sports track.  I was able to stand and voice my opinion on the danger not having sidewalks posed to those of us with young children - pushing a stroller/pram on narrow 30-40 mph roads can be somewhat terrifying.

I (obviously) voted yes to a small, one-year tax increase (thereafter paid for through raising bonds) for improving the roads and building sidewalks.  In order to vote, I had to be registered to vote and then received a sticker I had to wear.  When votes were called, I went to the ballot box above and was greeted by a ballot-watcher who checked my sticker and gave me a one-vote ballot to put in the box above.  Once the voting was done, we moved on to the next issue.  Later propositions required voice votes.

Together with the Founding Fathers, I've always been a bit squeamish towards direct democracy (think of your latest state initiative, not of republicanism (or representationism) that we normally confuse with democracy), but this kind, on a small scale, seems to work incredibly well in both its substance and in educating and motivating the citizenry to participate on a local, state, and even national scale.  And, I might add, it's awfully nice to be able to directly impact the amount of tax I pay every year.

Waiting to vote.
Small Wonders
* Overheard during G's role playing between toys: "Hi.  How are you today ?  I'm good.  How are you?  I'm busy. I have many important things to do today."  "Hi.  How are you?  Are you frustrating?"
* Me: What do you want to eat, Gideon?  G: Hmmmm, let me think.  What do I want?
* G: [Flailing arms about] I'm a hippopotamus!
* G: That's no problem.
* G: Those friends are crazy.
* G: You're a nice mama.  Can I have a kiss?
* Me: Are you done yet, Gideon?  Gideon: No, I'm not quite done.
* G: [holding out his fist] Can you pump me?
* E's vocab now includes "nana" (for banana) "apple," "aqua" (for any beverage besides milk), "night night" and my most recent favorite, "Amen"
* E has started french kissing, and sometimes insists on kissing this way on the mouth.  Don't know where she learned that one...
* E will now shake her finger at me when she has a mind to scold, usually in jest
Books at a used bookstore we visited as a family.  It's a veritable Hay-on-Wye under one barn roof!

So big!  He even picked out his own books.

Enjoying down-time with daddy.

We caught our ninth (!) skunk this week - our skunk man says it's the largest infestation he's ever seen.  Apparently skunks know about our barn for miles around.

morning walks with friends.

Her face!

Excursion to Walden Pond was one of the most peaceful things we've done in a while

Esther insisted on walking everywhere despite the sand.  I loved it.

Something about a boy and his rocks and a pond.

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