My Turn: Don’t know much, but a vote for the young people

Voters check in at the Deerfield Town Hall during a paste election.

Voters check in at the Deerfield Town Hall during a paste election. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

By BEN BENSEN

Published: 06-23-2024 11:03 AM

 

Sgt. Schultz of “Hogan’s Heroes” used to look at his prisoners, cringe, and then announce: “I know nothing! Nothing!” I’m feeling this way myself. Big things and little; stuff that makes me wonder. I think I live in a good, generous, thinking town, but perhaps I’m naive.

Full disclosure: Call me “politically active.” I vote, attend Town Meeting, and serve on two local commissions. I try to do my part, but hardly claim to know “what’s going on.” I’d like to understand more.

In this year’s Select Board election, Carolyn Shores Ness received 857 votes, more than in 2021 (474 votes, unopposed), 2018 (719 votes; Eric Brown had 490), or 2015 (140 votes, unopposed). Forty-four percent of town voters returned ballots this year; in 2021 only 15% did, in 2018 33%, and in 2015 under 5%. But Carolyn lost this election to “political newcomer” Blake Gilmore by 41 votes.

“Fiscal responsibility” was a big part of his successful campaign. Read between the lines and it’s pretty clear that a lot of voters don’t like rising taxes. Who does?

So far as I can tell, no one accused Shores Ness of fiscal irresponsibility, much less deceit or shenanigans, but she has been in town government for more than 20 years. Taxes went up; property values and costs did, too. We have a lot of big projects, some finished, some underway, some planned or proposed. Agree or disagree that these are all necessary, but Carolyn helped bring in state and federal funding for the town. Lots.

Most residents should benefit. Still, her experience didn’t help her in this election.

Meanwhile, in this year’s Town Meeting, most warrant items involved money. Questions were raised, but the Select Board and various committees all explained and justified their recommendations. Town officers and the voters seemed to actively practice fiscal responsibility, and every warrant item was approved. Except the last. Two hundred and ninety-four people attended the meeting. Politically active people? Four thousand and one residents were registered voters at the time.

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The last warrant item was a request to start the process of eventually getting 16- and 17-year-olds the vote in municipal elections, regarding local matters. A complicated, step-by-step procedure (like politics). Apparently, towns in Maryland, California and Massachusetts have passed similar initiatives, and voter turnouts improved in every age group when they did.

Sixteen- and 17-year-olds can operate vehicles, open businesses and pay taxes. Most probably don’t care about voting, but what would be the real harm if those who did could?

Opponents stated that “kids” are neither “mature” or “responsible” enough to vote; some even felt that bad things might happen. A high-jacked process, maybe? Are adults who don’t participate more mature or responsible than teenagers who want to? The proposal failed by three votes; its opponents cheered.

Less than 10% of Deerfield’s voters attended Town Meeting. Just because you have the right to vote doesn’t guarantee you’ll use it. Or abuse it. But what’s the good of denying the vote to people willing to put up with the process?

Finally, a few weeks ago, I mentioned to a town employee that I was glad a volunteer collects, cleans, and redeems bottles and cans to help fund the Tilton Library’s expansion. He answered, “I’ve never needed the library.” Well, OK. Not everyone does.

But the other day, while I plucked easy “nickels” from the recycling dumpsters, a man offered me his full box. When I thanked him and said they were for the library, he pulled his away. “I’m not giving mine to the library.” Willing to give his cans to a complete stranger, he didn’t see or agree with a long-term benefit (admittedly, small) to the town and its people.

Again, “Well, OK.” The deposit money was his own. I hope he donated his cans to some other good cause (there are plenty) and didn’t just throw them away.

Again, why shouldn’t kids who are willing to take the time and do the work be allowed to vote, especially if the town would benefit?

As to the Select Board election, it’s clear: Shores Ness’ experience wasn’t enough. Enough for who? Enough of what? Will taxes come down? Will projects now in the works be completed, put on hold, or what? Whatever. A lot of people in town wanted someone new.

I hope Blake Gilmore does a good job. From what I know, it’s complex work and he’ll have a lot of people to keep happy. But, I confess: I know nothing.

Ben Bensen lives in Deerfield.