This is the story of my second biggest contribution as a Republican Town Chair but first I have to give you some back story.
Back story 1: Fifty years ago, on August 6, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, the sweeping law that assured the right to vote for all Americans by prohibiting the practices used to deny that right to racial, ethnic, and language minorities.
“Many people don’t understand that … the Voting Rights Act is under threat.” Sen. Cory Booker, D-NJ said. “These voter ID laws which are being passed in many states have a disproportionate impact on poor folks.” The senator has introduced the Voting Rights Advancement Act aimed at preventing voter ID requirements.
I won’t comment on voter ID except to note that voting is our most important obligation and that the other advantages we have come to expect — driving our cars or picking up a book at the library — require identification.
Back story 2: In Supporting Parents I promised to tell what Vermont’s future governor and I were joking about on stage in 1984.
My friend Jim Douglas was Vermont’s Secretary of State then.
The office of Secretary of State pre-dates Vermont statehood in 1791.
The voter’s oath, formerly known as the freemen’s oath, is a citizen’s oath required to register to vote in the state of Vermont. Until 2007, the law was administered only by notaries public and similar officials.
The Freemen’s Oath was a part of the 1777 Constitution of the Vermont Republic, the first constitution in the Western Hemisphere to grant universal suffrage to all men. Until the early twentieth century all official state commissions and certificates were headed by the words “BY THE FREEMEN OF VERMONT.”
The agency manages the State Archives so he preserved all state records and made them accessible to the rest of us. The State Archives preserve documents going back to the state’s founding as the Vermont Republic in 1777. The office licenses 39 different flavors of professionals from accountants and acupuncturists to tattooists and veterinarians. They register businesses and oversee all of Vermont’s notaries public. Most important to this story, they administer all national, state and local elections in Vermont, register voters and coordinate the Voter’s Oath, oversee campaign finance reporting, and implement Vermont’s lobbyist disclosure laws.
You solemnly swear (or affirm) that whenever you give your vote or suffrage, touching any matter that concerns the state of Vermont, you will do it so as in your conscience you shall judge will most conduce to the best good of the same, as established by the Constitution, without fear or favor of any man.
Vermont is the only U.S. state with a voter’s oath.
My second biggest contribution as a Republican Town Chair was swearing in new voters. At that time, only a Notary Public could administer the Freeman’s Oath; that’s the only reason I was a notary. I carried voter registration forms in my car pretty much everywhere because one just never knew where a potential voter might lurk.
A lot of them lurked at our local high school so Jim Douglas and I cooked up a Voter Registration assembly and civics lesson. Today pretty much anyone over the age of 18 who fogs a mirror can administer the oath, including the potential voter but back then only Notaries Public (actual or de facto) could give the oath. Town Clerks are de facto notaries so they swore in voters all the time. Other elected officials are not which means they can’t.
About 20 years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, we filled the school auditorium with the older kids and put a couple of Dicks on stage.
Dick Snelling was the 76th and 78th Governor of Vermont. He jumped at the chance to talk to the kids when I asked him to drive up.
I introduced him. He got the crowd worked up in a few minutes and then invited anyone who wanted to register to come up on stage with us.
Our plan was that he’d greet the kids and keep them a little amped while Jim and I did the grunt work of filling out the forms and administering the oath.
The Gov. had other ideas.
“I’m going to swear in at least the first kid,” he told us.
Dick Snelling was a lot of things, but the Secretary of State who knows these things knew he wasn’t a notary. The Secretary of State who knows these things also knew that you have to be a notary to give the oath.
Jim and I looked at each other. “You going to tell him?” he asked.
I think we registered about 40 kids that day. Most of them still vote.
How do I register to vote [in Vermont]?
If you are registering to vote in Vermont for the first time by mail, you must include a photocopy of an acceptable form of ID. Acceptable forms of ID are: Valid photo ID (driver’s license or passport); current utility bill; current bank statement; another government document.
Am I required to show identification when I vote [in Vermont]?
No. In Vermont, only first time voters who have registered by mail have to show ID in order to vote. If you registered when you renewed your driver’s license, or as part of a voter registration drive, you will not be required to show ID.
What kind of identification do I need to bring to the polls [in Florida]?
When you go to the polling place to vote, you will be asked to provide a current and valid picture identification with a signature. Approved forms of picture identification are: Florida driver’s license; Florida identification card issued by the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles; United States passport; debit or credit card; military identification; student identification; retirement center identification; neighborhood association identification; and public assistance identification. If the picture identification does not contain a signature, you will be asked to provide an additional identification with your signature.
Can I still vote [in Florida] if I do not bring identification?
Yes. You should not be turned away from the polls because you do not bring identification. If you do not have the proper identification, you will be allowed to vote a provisional ballot.