By CAROL ROBIDOUX
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY – Summer vacation is over for town councilors who found out last night they have 30 days to cram for the big exam – a test of their knowledge on election procedures.
Their online tests are due by the Sept. 14 state election.
“The Secretary of State is requesting you take the test,” said Town Clerk Denise Neal.
Councilors shifted in their seats.
“The state created a program, NH Votes, an online training program for all election officials. It's 23 lessons divided into 11 units. It will take you at least two hours to complete,” said Neal. “But I gave you cheat sheets.”
Whatever relief that might have been to the councilors was soon dashed, as Neal explained that the online test was not terribly difficult, but there was a lot of reading involved.
“I only gave you the test objectives for the section specific to selectmen's duties during state and federal elections, but you can take the whole test if you want to be graded,” said Neal, explaining that the councilors would need to score 85 percent or better to pass the test and get a certificate of completion. They would have until the Nov. 2 federal election to complete the entire test.
Councilor Brad Benson, picking up on the fact that there might be options, wanted to clarify.
“So we're not required to take the whole test,” Benson said, emphasis on the word required.
“You should take the whole test. That's my recommendation,” Neal said, like a fair but tough teacher pushing her students to achieve. Or a mom, judiciously advising her children on the question of whether finishing all their broccoli at dinner time was required.
NH Votes and is unique to New Hampshire voting regulations. It was developed by the New Hampshire Department of Justice, the New Hampshire Department of State and the University of New Hampshire's Justiceworks program in conjunction with Pew Charitable Trust prompted by a federal initiative to make sure voters are informed and up to speed with current voting technology.
It's also a response to national voter apathy and a the complacency over how votes are cast, collected and tallied, which came to light during the disputed 2000 Presidential election when Florida's balloting system came under scrutiny.
Derry is no stranger to voter apathy. In March, only 2,139 of the town's 21,000 registered voters made it to the polls – numbers that, for the past several elections, have been equally dismal.
In an effort to better prepare voters – and local election officials – Pew in 2006 established a program called Make Voting Work, with the intention of educating voters and town officials in every state.
“I took the test myself and it took me three hours. I got 100,” said Neal, as an afterthought. “It's a lot of information, but the council needs to know it too, as election officials. They have no idea what my job is. If I make a mistake, it's a Class B felony. I'd go to federal prison, but they'd be accountable,” Neal said.
She's not really worried about going to prison, but she would like her town to pass muster with the state by scoring well on the test. Even more important, that they take their responsibility to heart.
“I'm pushing them to take it before the September election, but I'm really doing it for them. Really, it's for the town, because if everything works right and we get all our eggs in the same basket, the state will give us a passing grade,” said Neal.
Other election officials being asked to take the test include the town moderator and supervisors of the checklist.
“And there's even a section for citizens who want to take the test,” said Neal. Although residents aren't graded by the Secretary of State, it never hurts to be informed, said Neal.
“I think everyone should understand this process,” said Neal.
To view the training materials online go to: http://nhvotes.sos.nh.gov