Monday, July 7, 2008
Pre-July 4th Fireworks in Lebanon Borough
The town newsletter for Lebanon Borough [Hunterdon County, population 1,065] is called the “Lebanon Lantern”. But the local government attitude towards free speech in this tiny densely populated borough is anything but ‘enlightening’.
Recently Mayor Mark Paradis and July 4th Parade Chairwoman Debbie Masco declared that non-partisan voter registration in their town was too much of an “un-patriotic” and “political” activity to be held in Lebanon Borough in their public park after the July 4th parade. Unbelievably, they even went as far as to threaten to have the sheriff’s department arrest anyone who attempted to register voters. Can you say Bull Connor?
Also, Ms. Masco went as far to declare that voter registration in the public park after the parade would so offend her volunteers, that they would all up and quit and that would destroy the 61 year old Lebanon Parade forever.
Ms. Masco, you need to keep things in perspective.
In my capacity as Hunterdon County Democratic Chair from 1996-2000, I oversaw the County Party’s voter registration efforts at local town events all over the County. We registered voters in just about every town from Lambertville to Readington ----from Union to Raritan Township. We registered anyone and everyone ----anytime there was a township community day or street fair or Flemington Fair.
Therefore, when I was asked by a group of young volunteers from the Democratic Party to assist them in organizing a non-partisan voter registration table at the public park in Lebanon Borough, I said I would help.
So, I called Mayor Paradis to make the arrangements for a small voter registration table, in a reasonable and legal location in or near the public park. That was when the pre-July 4th fireworks started.
Right off the bat, the Mayor denied my request, calling voter registration not within the "spirit of July 4th" or within the event theme of "America's Moments in History". Ironic, isn't it?
The Lebanon Borough Park is a ‘public forum’---where it is completely within constitutional bounds to register voters, given reasonable ‘time, place and manner’ restrictions. A small unobtrusive voter registration table in a corner somewhere is all we asked for, and were constitutionally entitled to.
There is no activity more civic, more non-partisan, and more purely American than providing an opportunity for those who are eligible to vote to register. Voting is the basis of our democracy.
Just what about voter registration do Mayor Paradis and Ms. Masco find so offensive?
This was the first time in all my years in Hunterdon County that a seated Mayor declared that there would be “no voter registration” in his town. Throughout our conversation Mr. Paradis was never able to provide the authority he had to make such a declaration, either.
After more than an hour of a heated conference call, Mayor Paradis and Ms. Masco finally relented ---but only after I was compelled to invoke the ACLU of NJ. Go figure.