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An interesting legal question

My wife and I own property in Chester, Vermont, so I have the Chester Telegraph‘s newsfeed on my RSS reader.

Chester is right down the road from Grafton, where they used to make Grafton cheeses. That’s right, the factory is gone, as is the outlet shop, leaving nary a thing behind. It did not, however, go to China, but down Route 91 to Brattleboro.

I digress.

Grafton is currently being torn by controversy about a proposed wind farm that a foreign corporation is proposing to build in the area. The voters will decide whether the project will go forward on election day in November.

The company recently sweetened the deal it was offering. It has offered yearly payments to every registered voter in the affected communities. One letter writer estimates he would realize $23,240 over the life of the deal.

The Attorney General’s office has ruled that the offer doesn’t violate applicable state law, which reads as follows:

A person who attempts by bribery, threats or any undue influence to dictate, control or alter the vote of a freeman about to be given at a general election shall be fined not more than $200.00.

Of course, I don’t practice in Vermont, and I’m not an expert in election law, but I respectfully disagree. I should add that as a property owner I don’t have a vote, nor do I actually have an opinion, as I can see both sides of the wind farm issue. Anyway, although Chester is close to the action, it’s not close enough, and it’s residents have no say in the matter.

But, back to the legal point, I think where they go wrong is offering the payments to each registered voter, rather than to each resident. If the point is to make the community a “partner”, as the company suggests, then every resident, regardless of whether he or she is a registered voter, should get a cut. By offering the cash to registered voters, they are clearly singling out the very people who will decide the fate of their project for bribes partnership payments, while leaving similarly affected people with nothing. Plus, there’s really no question but that the whole point of the bribes proposed payments is to sway people’s votes, particularly as the offer was made just a few weeks before what is clearly looking like a very close vote. There’s no question that the offer never would have been made if a favorable outcome were certain, so can there really be any question but that the payment is being offered to “alter the vote” of the voters?

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