In this year of noise over imaginary voter fraud, little ol’ Vermont is confronting it’s own situation of questionable efforts to influence a vote.
Wind-developer Iberdrola of Spain is offering a cash incentive to all adult Windham and Grafton residents if, in an upcoming referendum, the voters come down in favor of its proposal to construct 24 turbines in the two towns.
Now, I don’t have a dog in this fight. Wind is a useful alternative to fossil fuel so long as the siting is responsible and well-considered Those determinations should be made by disinterested professionals. Local representatives of the people have an obligation to consider both those professional opinions and the sentiments of their constituents in making a final decision. I also understand that the popular vote in Windham/Grafton is non-binding.
Nevertheless, it sets a poor precedent for the permit process, and potentially for other processes going forward, when what is tantamount to a bribe is allowed to influence the vote.
I understand the argument that says this is a way to ensure that compensation for hosting the towers will reach all residents by equal parts; but if that were the only goal, there are other ways to handle this after public opinion has been fairly sampled.
After the case for and against has been heard and a public opinion vote taken without undue influence, if the project is deemed unobjectionable, then is the time to discuss the particulars of compensation.
If it becomes the habit to offer this kind of cash incentive in order to grease the wheels of voter “opinion” there could be unexpected consequences.
Should a project succeed in the permitting process only because popular support has been bought by the developer, and despite valid opposition by those most affected, some important values will have been compromised. Should that project then prove a huge mistake for the community as a whole, the fundamental principle of public input could be permanently undermined.
I was grateful to read Secretary of State Jim Condos’ carefully chosen words about the more egregious proposal to make payments only to registered voters. Certainly the current proposal that extends to all permanent resident adults is more equitable, and even arguably less of a direct bribe to voters.
Nevertheless, menace to the process is still very real in this arrangement; and, since the bribes are being offered by a foreign corporation, there is an ironic echo of colonial exploitation in the whole affair.