If you obey the posted speed limit signs on Main Street — which you should, because the speed trap at the bottom of the hill by the Kaleidoscope coffee shop is stickier than 40-grit flypaper — it takes about three full minutes to drive from one end of my sleepy little New Hampshire town to the other. Marlborough doesn’t strut, but it’s a fine old place if you have the right kind of eyes.
There are no traffic lights. The Minnewawa Brook runs briskly down the centerline, telling you how the drought is going by how white the water runs around the rocks. On your way through, you’ll see Town Hall, the community center, a beautiful old church, the Frost Free Library, the volunteer fire department and a clutch of houses that you’d swear stepped bodily out of the pages of Oscar Wilde’s notebook.
The oak trees riot in autumn, and the streetlights are festooned with patriotic bunting every Fourth of July. Off the main drag, up in the woods, there are secretive lakes with trout big enough to make Ahab himself call for reinforcements. At night, the only sound you hear is the hum in your own ears. In the distance, the geological curiosity that is Mt. Monadnock stands the watch.
Ask me to capture the essence of Marlborough and I’ll point you to Mother’s Hardware, right next to the Post Office. A converted gas station that still has the old pumps out front, Mother’s is filled with screws and shovels and anything you might need for anything. It’s small enough that you could easily fit 50 of them inside your average Home Depot, but I have never once failed to find exactly what I need when I darken their door. The employees are all a hug of checkered flannel, and come from behind the register to walk you personally to what it was you came for.
It is the perfect store, and the perfect ambassador for the town it calls home. I could fall back on any of a thousand stereotypes of the no-nonsense, seemingly humorless, granite-boned New Hampsherite, but the fact is this particular stereotype carries a jewel of truth. Folks in these parts live by their good name, because at the end of the day, that’s mostly all they’ve got. Marlborough is small enough that your reputation can run to mud in a day if you don’t keep your word and carry your freight. Living like that becomes habit, and the pride taken in it is not unwarranted.
It’s a hard hustle up here. You can gauge how well the economy is doing by how many “For Sale” signs you see on cars parked in yards. People here lay an axe to their own wood to prepare for the hard winters, and God help you if your cords aren’t stacked before the snow flies. Gardens are not hobbies, but home-produce factories where winter stores are harvested. People fix their own cars, mend their own fences, tend their own soil and wear their set-shouldered competence like a badge.
If you yell “Help,” you might get run over in the stampede coming to your aid. When the Great Ice Storm of ’08 damaged the region for weeks, power companies from as far away as Tennessee came to join in the repair work, but the men they sent didn’t bring gloves or coats because they didn’t know what they were headed into. The town provided for them with nary a blink, and maybe only the occasional well-intentioned chuckle at the expense of all those Southern boys who had never seen a real storm before. Eagle Scouts went door to door in snowshoes to make sure everyone, especially the elderly, was safe. Maybe a million trees were felled by that storm — the noise of trunks shattering under the brunt sounded like sustained gunfire in the forests — but the town remained.
It is for all these reasons, and many more besides, that accusations of vote fraud and a rigged election in New Hampshire, volleyed recently by President-elect Donald Trump and his surrogates, were greeted here with disgust and disdain by those who were tasked to keep the sacred trust of democracy on November 8, 2016, and by all those who know better simply by dint of devoted repetition. It would be easier to steal Loon Mountain itself than it would be to steal an election in Marlborough, or in any of the hundreds of towns here that run clean and lawful elections each and every time the duty calls.
Everyone’s favorite around here was the accusation that busloads of Massachusetts residents were shuttled over the southern border to exploit New Hampshire’s same-day voter registration rules. First of all, you need a valid New Hampshire photo ID to cast your vote. This is not to say that voter ID laws are a good thing: They’re a persistent problem and a route to voter suppression. However, you do need an ID here to cast a ballot, and an ID from Cambridge or Northampton wouldn’t cut the mustard.
In order to register same-day, you also need proof of residency such as a utility bill, a signed lease or a notarized letter from the landowner where you live confirming that you do reside in the state. As with the voter ID issue, this process can also be manipulated to the detriment of the voter. No such accusations have been made in New Hampshire to my knowledge — although, of course, too many cases of voter suppression are never officially reported. All that aside, in towns small enough that everyone knows everyone, a flood of strangers in the polling station dropping their “r’s” while asking to vote wouldn’t make it through the front door.
Running an election in New Hampshire is arduous work conducted by town officials and volunteers who couldn’t give less of a damn who you vote for, so long as the process itself is undertaken according to the guidelines set down each year in precise detail by the secretary of state, and by their own bedrock need to do the thing right.
Every member of the Marlborough Board of Selectmen, the Town Moderator, the Town Clerk and the Keepers of the List, along with all the volunteers, are in that polling place from just after dawn until well past dinner to eyeball the process through, tally the results, and see them sent to Concord for the final accounting. They all go home on very sore feet. It’s a damned long day, the culmination of many long days, undertaken by patriots of the purest vein. Think you can buy off all those people and steal an election here? Good luck; you won’t make it to the men’s room.
Ed Goodrich, Town Moderator of Marlborough, is tasked with making sure every election comes off clean and correct. When all this noise about rigged elections here hit the news wires, Mr. Goodrich put some thoughts to paper in a letter to the editor published by the Keene Sentinel:
I feel compelled to respond to a very sloppy, arrogant, unjust charge made by someone about to assume the highest office in our land. I have complete confidence in the people who made our election run properly in Marlborough. To suggest that they are corrupt in any way is an utter disgrace. I enlisted the good people that volunteered to work the in and out checklists at our polls and can honestly state that I have known them all for decades. They are all very good public servants.
I respect New Hampshire Secretary of State William Gardner and his department’s uncanny ability to predict voter turnout numbers and prepare the training workshops to educate us in our duties. I also respect, but sometimes dread, the inspectors from the Office of the NH Attorney General when they pay us a visit on election days. An attorney from the AG’s office did stop by again this time. He went through the multiple-page checklists of procedures with me. Marlborough passed with flying colors.
Our voters in Marlborough were model citizens. Anticipating larger crowds, we had moved the regular polling place for safety reasons and tried to work the bugs out as they became known. The voters were patient and responsible. We, the people of Marlborough, made it work, honestly. I was reserving judgment on the victor of the race. I am disappointed in what I have seen so far.
Are there ways to rig an election? Of course. Gut the Voting Rights Act at the Supreme Court level so serial states can make it virtually impossible for minorities, college students, the elderly and infirm to cast a vote. Gerrymander voting districts to ensure a specific outcome. Intimidate voters at the polls. Find a Russian, maybe, to hack a state’s database. Hell, we’re not immune to it; New Hampshire just elected Republican Chris Sununu, scion of the awful Sununu family, as governor. He has made it known that same-day voter registration is doomed if he gets his way, and never mind the fact that it’s wonderful and it works. Anything that makes voting easier is anathema to such people. These tricks are all as old as the poll tax, and nearly as vile.
Come on down to Main Street here in Marlborough, Mr. Trump. Tip a wave to Mother’s before stopping in at the town offices. Look over the meticulously organized aftermath of the last election, down to the letter, and take a lesson in how a thing is done right by those who love their country and are not averse to hard work. Once you’ve had your fill, go peddle your papers elsewhere. When you insult the integrity of democracy as practiced by those who believe in it and serve it to the tooth, you damage us all deeply. You disgrace not only yourself, but anyone who rallies to your tattered flag.
“Ridicule,” said Oscar Wilde, “is the tribute paid to the genius by the mediocrities.” You pay us tribute, Mr. Trump, with your mediocre ridicule. New Hampshire, from its town hall meetings to its warrant articles to its annual budget rhubarbs, is the vault that keeps safe this American democracy. A vote here is holy writ, and treated as such. That is our simple genius, well-tended and beloved. You keep talking, Mr. Trump. We’ll keep the flame.