On the eve of the Dalton town meeting, the New Hampshire Attorney General’s office looked into a social media post from the town moderator, who encouraged residents to take photographs of out-of-state license plates at the town hall so the vehicle owners can be tracked down.
Dalton’s town meeting was on Tuesday evening and on the warrant were several petitioned warrant articles directly and indirectly relating to Casella Waste Systems, which seeks to site a 180-acre landfill beside Forest Lake State Park.
Opponents argue a landfill would have negative impacts to the environment and property values.
Supporters argue a landfill would generate property tax revenue and money for the town and that Forest Lake residents, some of whom at times of the year live out of state, are driving the opposition.
On Sunday evening, Dalton Town Moderator Christine Ordinetz posted on the “North Country Trash Talk” Facebook page, where Whitefield resident David Leonard had written on Saturday, “Could someone count the out-of-state plates at the Dalton townhall on Tuesday.”
In a follow-up post in which she identified herself as Dalton’s town moderator, Ordinetz said “only registered Dalton voters will be allowed in the meeting room and allowed to speak. Registered voters are supposed to register their car but don’t always. the State is not good at enforcing certain aspects of residency and car registration. There will be some out-of-state plates. Maybe someone could take pictures and we’ll try to track them down. They have to show an NH driver’s license or ID to register to vote.”
In a 2020 New Hampshire Supreme Court case, however, the Supreme Court justices ruled that there is no connection between registering to vote in New Hampshire and registering a motor vehicle in New Hampshire.
On Tuesday afternoon, state officials confirmed to The Caledonian-Record that they had looked into Ordinetz’s post.
“A complaint was made to the Attorney General’s Election Law Unit regarding the town moderator’s post on Facebook,” said NHAG spokesperson Kate Giaquinto. “This office immediately communicated with the town moderator to ensure that she understood the requirements to register and vote in an election. In addition, the supervisors of the checklist, who are in charge of the voter registration process, are trained and aware of the requirements to register people to vote. At this time, there is no further action expected.”
The case called Caroline Casey v. New Hampshire Secretary of State, which was heard by the NHSC in March 2020, had challenged House Bill 1264, the state residency law.
Casey and co-plaintiff Maggie Flaherty were Dartmouth College students who sought to vote while living in New Hampshire and attending college, but who did not intend to remain in New Hampshire after graduation and had driver’s licenses issued by other states.
They argued that the 2018 amendments to New Hampshire’s residency requirements in HB 1264 burdened the right to vote and violated the U.S. Constitution and indirectly made voter registration an effective declaration of residency that required the obligation to obtain a New Hampshire driver’s license and vehicle registration.
Citing New Hampshire’s voting statute, the Supreme Court justices said a legal resident of the state is someone who is domiciled or has a place or home in the state and has “demonstrated a current intent to designate that place of abode as his or her principal place of physical presence to the exclusion of all others … Such residence or residency shall not be interrupted or lost by a temporary absence from it, if there is an intent to return to such residence or residency as the principal place of physical presence.”
While New Hampshire law does require a non-resident driver who holds a driver’s license from another state to obtain a New Hampshire license within 60 days of establishing a bona fide New Hampshire residence and requires a non-resident to register their vehicle within 60 days of establishing residency (or face fines), the NHSC ruling states that election laws are not linked with motor vehicle laws
“At the outset, we observe that the election laws do not establish motor vehicle or driving privileges and obligations, nor do the motor vehicle laws establish voting eligibility,” wrote the justices. “A person is eligible to vote in the state if they live in New Hampshire and have manifested the requisite intent.”
The plaintiffs withdrew their lawsuit after the NHSC issued its ruling clarifying HB 1264.
Ordinetz was at Dalton town meeting Tuesday afternoon and unavailable for comment about her post.
On Wednesday, in a voicemail message, Ordinetz said her post was “sarcastic, off the cuff, and was never intended to be followed through.”
The Caledonian-Record will have full coverage of Dalton’s town meeting in Thursday’s paper.