New Hampshire to send unsearchable voter data to Trump panel
By HOLLY RAMER
Aug. 07, 2017
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — New Hampshire will send millions of scanned, unsearchable images of voter data to President Donald Trump's election fraud commission under an agreement reached Monday to resolve a lawsuit challenging the information's release.
The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity in June requested any records considered public by states, including driver's license numbers and partial Social Security numbers, though no state is supplying every item on the list. In New Hampshire, two lawmakers and a civil liberties group later sued Secretary of State Bill Gardner — a member of the commission — to block him from sending names, addresses, party affiliation and history of voting.
Their argument focused on the law regarding New Hampshire's statewide electronic voter database, which can be sold to political parties, political committees and candidates, but is available to the public only at the state archives, where it can't be downloaded or printed. But the attorney general's office argued that voter checklists maintained separately from the database by each town and city and sent to the state archives are public records available for copying under the state's Right-to-Know law.
"The secretary has received a request for specifically described, publicly available voter information. New Hampshire law is clear that he must provide it," Associate Attorney General Anne Edwards said in the state's motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
A hearing on those arguments had been scheduled for Monday, but a Hillsborough County Superior Court judge instead announced that the two sides agree that Gardner will send digital copies of the paper checklists dating to 2006. Edwards said the documents would be in non-searchable, PDF form. And while software exists to convert such images to searchable files, an attorney for the plaintiffs said doing so would be a futile task.
"These voter checklists have so much that is hand-written and checked and marked, that it would be of no value," said Paul Twomey.
State Sen. Bette Lasky, a Nashua Democrat who sued along with Republican state Rep. Neal Kurk, of Weare, and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire, said she was pleased with the outcome, though she hopes lawmakers will revisit the issue.
"I feel that we got what we were looking for in that the database will not be compromised, and that will protect people's privacy," she said. "I think there needs to be in the next session a little bit of tweaking perhaps to make sure the conflicts we saw can be resolved."
The state argued that voter information has been public in New Hampshire since 209 men from four towns voted in the state's first election 337 years ago and remains an "essential tool for ensuring the integrity of our electoral process."
Trump, a Republican, created the commission in May to investigate his allegations — offered without evidence — that millions of people voted illegally in 2016. Democrats have blasted the commission as a biased panel bent on voter suppression, and 13 states plus Washington have said they won't provide any information. Among the 32 that say they're providing some information, several say the commission must first pay fees ranging from $23 to $32,000. New York last week became the first state to hand over some voter information after initially balking.
In New Hampshire, agencies can charge only for the cost of the final data — for example, for paper copies or the computer disks on which the information is provided.
Gardner, a Democrat, said disclosing the information will help voters "develop and maintain a positive perspective" on the election process.
"For the ACLU to argue, without justification, that this office would seek to harm the voting public by disclosing historic voter information only served to unnecessarily undermine voter confidence and frustrate the positive and trustworthy impression our office tries to give the voters of New Hampshire," he said in a statement.