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ACLU-NH suit to block NH from sharing voter data has hearing Aug. 7

New Hampshire Union Leader

July 27. 2017 10:41AM

A legal challenge to Secretary of State Bill Gardner sharing voter data with President Donald Trump's voter fraud commission will now have a hearing Aug. 7 in Hillsborough County Superior Court South in Nashua.

The American Civil Liberties Union of NH reinstated its lawsuit after the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity renewed its request Wednesday for states to provide voter information that is publicly available in their state.

The request comes after a federal court sided with the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity on Monday and denied the Electronic Privacy Information Center's motion for an injunction to block transmission of the records.

Two weeks ago, a hearing in Hillsborough County Superior Court South in Nashua was put on hold pending that EPIC case. The ACLU-NH filed suit against Gardner, claiming it would be illegal for him to send voter registration data to the commission, on which he sits.

The parties in the case agreed to lift the stay in the case, so that the hearing and request for a preliminary injunction is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on Aug. 7.

Gardner maintains he has authority to send voter names, addresses, party affiliation and voting history to the commission because it is public information under New Hampshire law. The ACLU-NH argues that the state law prohibits the sharing of that information on privacy grounds.

State Sen. Bette Lasky, D-Nashua, and Rep. Neal Kurk, R-Weare, are plaintiffs in the ACLU challenge. "The Secretary of State has no statutory authority to release a copy of the statewide public checklist to anyone other than a political party, political committee, or candidate for New Hampshire office," Lasky said in a statement.

The ACLU case argues that state law, RSA 654:31, explicitly prohibits the public sharing of the information. Gilles Bissonnette, legal director for ACLU-NH, said the Secretary of State cannot make exemptions, or carve-outs, for any purpose.

The state law was crafted to only allow requesters to view the statewide public voter checklist on the statewide centralized voter registration database at the state Records and Archives center, and those requesting information are banned from printing, duplicating, transmitting, or altering the data, according to the ACLU-NH, citing the statutes.

Gardner, who has the support of Gov. Chris Sununu, R-Newfields, said the information has always been public.

Supporters, and Sununu, have noted that political parties access this voter information on a regular basis.

Trump's commission held its first meeting last week. In one of his letters to state chief election officials, commission vice chairman Kris Kobach renewed the request for data and repeated that his request is only for information that is publicly available under state law.

"I want to assure you that the commission will not publicly release any personally identifiable information regarding any individual voter or any group of voters from the voter registration records you submit. Individuals' voter registration records will be kept confidential and secure through the duration of the commission's existence," Kobach wrote to Gardner and other states’ chief election officials. "Let me be clear, the commission will not release any personally identifiable information from voter registration records to the public."

In his letter, he states that the commission has received cooperation from chief election officials from more than 30 states "who have already responded to the June 28 request and either agreed to provide these publicly available records, or are currently evaluating what specific records they may provide in accordance with their state laws."


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