The good news: Charlestown resident Dee Milliken was “cleared” last week of voter fraud.
The bad news: Charlestown resident Dee Milliken was suspected of voter fraud in the first place.
Voting is among our most basic civil rights. But for political reasons, there has been an increasing effort to disenfranchise some voters by erecting hurdles. And the rationale for these barriers has been the dubious claim that lawful voters’ choices are being “stolen” through voter fraud. The picture painted in these arguments is of politically motivated, shadowy figures either posing as legitimate voters or pretending to live where they don’t.
The reality is, the risk hardly seems worth the reward of gaining a single extra vote one way or another. In fact, the relatively rare cases of actual voter fraud almost never occur this way; they’re more often cases where someone who’s moved votes in multiple places. But the allegations continue.
Then there’s the case of Dee Milliken.
Milliken accompanied her son Justin to the polls last November. Justin, 19, suffers from cerebral palsy and a seizure disorder. He uses a wheelchair and attends Keene’s Cedarcrest Center.
Milliken told the Valley News of Lebanon a poll worker didn’t want to let her accompany Justin into the voting booth. This was after they’d already been denied the use of a touchscreen-operated voting station especially for those with disabilities. Eventually, she made her way through the ballot with Justin, recorded his choices and submitted his ballot.
That’s not an ideal reception one might hope for from those whose primary job is to assist voters. The real shocker came later, when Milliken received word she was being investigated for potential voter fraud. Apparently an election worker, concerned Justin might not be capable of understanding what he was voting on, contacted the state, which began a voter-fraud investigation.
The question of whether it’s wrong for someone unable to comprehend what they’re voting on is food for thought. Such a vote might be seen as wasted, though it counts just the same; or if, as in this case, someone is assisting the voter, it could be assumed that person is simply duplicating their own choices, which wouldn’t be fair. But that needs to be weighed against the far-more-dangerous possibility of using any such restriction to deprive eligible voters of their rights.
Thus, there is no intelligence test for voters; no standard that must be met in comprehending the issues and candidates in an election. And there’s no basis for denying someone a ballot just because they need assistance filling it out. The Secretary of State’s Office says there is latitude given to local moderators to test someone for general mental competency, though that didn’t happen in Milliken’s case. She says Justin communicates with looks and sounds she can understand.
Note, also, that Milliken says she and her son had been exploring the issues and meeting local candidates for weeks prior to the election. Her son was excited to vote for the first time. Now, perhaps, not so much.
To its credit, the state, once it notified Milliken of the probe, quickly found there were no grounds to suspect any wrongdoing on her part. We’d hope someone took a look at the situation and applied the common sense needed to say, “What are we doing here?”
It also sent a letter to Charlestown’s election officials, noting they ultimately correctly allowed Justin Milliken to vote, but also reminding them of the proper procedures for dealing with such situations.
Local elections officials and volunteers don’t have an easy job in today’s politically divisive atmosphere, where accusations fly quickly and everyone is waiting to jump on any perceived mistake as proof of ill intent. At such a time, it’s especially vital that the state supply them with proper training and resources. Election integrity is a real issue, but it needs to be addressed without discouraging legitimate voters from exercising their rights.