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Want to get involved in New Hampshire politics? It’s easier than you think

Want to get involved in New Hampshire politics? It’s easier than you think

A bin of "I Voted Today" stickers rests on a table at a polling place, Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022, in Stratham, N.H. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

By Elaina Bedio

December 6, 2023

What does it mean to be engaged in New Hampshire politics?

It sounds simple but encompasses an incredibly broad variety of actions. Examples include attending a town meeting, volunteering with a nonprofit, or writing to a legislator.

However, it can be as simple as voting or talking to your neighbors about your community. So why then, do we find it so daunting?

A recent study by the Carsey School of Public Policy at UNH, found that while New Hampshire has much to be proud of, there are still areas of concern. We ranked fifth in the nation in voting in the 2016 election and sixth in attending public meetings. Not bad! However, while we ranked seventh in discussing political, societal, or local issues with family and friends, we ranked 33rd in doing so with our neighbors. We ranked a painful 46th in terms of connecting with people of different racial, ethnic, or cultural backgrounds. The report goes on to state “Granite Staters reported that they feel more barriers to engagement than they did in 2001.”

Some of the reasons put forth in the report are declining trust in national and local government as well as in news media. Declining trust in one’s neighbors and those outside their immediate social circle is also cited as a likely barrier to civic engagement. 

“Right now, people are very aware that we live in a hyper-partisan, high stakes political environment and it can be a real turnoff to people,” says Anna Brown, Director of Research and Analysis at Citizens Count. “There’s a growing number of people who say ‘I don’t want to engage just because it gets so ugly.’”

It is easy to see why people feel discouraged or intimidated. However, Brown offered some helpful advice. 

“First of all, there are so many issues, particularly at the state and local level that are not caught up in that hyper-partisan, divisive environment,” she said. 

She referenced a recent bill that added ducks, chickens, and swans to the state’s existing animal trespassing law. 

“Definitely not a Republican or Democratic issue.” 

Her advice is simple: “Think local.” Brown suggests attending meetings that correspond with one’s policy interests. 

“You have a chance to meet and interact with other people in the community which, once again, is so important because we do have shared experiences and we’re losing out on that when you don’t go out into the world and talk to your fellow citizens,” she explained.

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Dr. Maria Manus Painchaud, Executive Director at NH Civics, suggested an alternative route. 

“It’s never too late to learn and it’s never too late to get engaged,” said Dr. Painchaud. “That does not mean you have to go run for office or get involved in this, that, or the other thing. But there are so many nonprofits in our state and they need volunteers, committee members, board members and it is an incredible way of learning.”

Finding a local issue or cause that feels meaningful was a universal theme among New Hampshire experts on the matter. 

“Locally is the best way to meet neighbors, stay connected over time, and reinforce positive ties,” said Michelle Holt-Shannon, Director and Co-Founder at NH Listens. “Check out some of the community groups such as a community trail group, chamber of commerce, or one of the more specific town committees such as one focused on water, arts, or the library.” 

Other common barriers to civic engagement are available time and what is perceived to be a steep learning curve. Between work, caring for family, and other obligations, “How much time is left in the day?” asked Dr. Painchaud. For her, the key to an engaged citizenry is to ensure you have an educated one. NH Civics advocates for civic education in public schools and provides educational resources for educators at no cost. 

“Our advocacy efforts most recently have been very successful working with the NH Civics Learning Coalition, helping to push the passage of SB 216, more time on civics, through this past legislative session,” Dr. Painchaud said, noting she still maintains an optimistic view. “I really believe that we’re going to see some outstanding things happening in the future. Because people will come to understand and appreciate they have a duty and obligation and they start fulfilling that duty and obligation to their communities and their country.”

Making information accessible (read: understandable) is another way to break down the learning curve barrier. 

“Our mission at Citizens Count is to take all of this information that is out there, it’s available to the public but it’s in legalese. We take that and we make it easy to find and easy to understand,” said Brown.

Citizens Count’s website provides bill summaries in easy-to-understand language as well as candidate profiles and an advocacy toolkit that includes basic instructions for various civic activities such as writing to your legislator, attending a public hearing, where to vote, and more.

For those who are interested in learning more and getting involved, the organizations represented in this article are excellent places to start. Citizens Count will get you up to speed on legislation, policymakers, and processes. NH Civics “teaches civics for free to people of all ages, political views, and zip codes.” NH Listens facilitates regional listening groups that invite all perspectives and experience levels to engage in civic conversations in their local communities. 

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CATEGORIES: POLITICS | VOTING
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