January 21. 2012 10:13PM

Voter fraud concerns to prompt checklist guidlines

Staff Report

State officials plan to issue instructions soon to local election workers on how to better maintain voter checklists after a controversial watchdog group tried to obtain ballots by using the names of dead voters at polling stations in four communities on primary day.

Other developments resulting from the 10-minute video that Project Veritas posted on the Internet include:

-- Town clerks in Goffstown and Bedford confirmed ballots were offered to people who gave the names of recently deceased people still on voter checklists.

-- Election officials in Manchester and Nashua have turned over information to the Attorney General’s Office, which is investigating whether anyone broke state election or wiretapping laws.

-- Workers seen and/or heard on the secretly shot video included a relative of Secretary of State William Gardner and the wife of a former Manchester alderman, according to Manchester City Clerk Matt Normand. Normand said the Attorney General’s Office didn’t ask for the names of those workers heard or seen on the video.

-- And James O’Keefe, founder of the group that spearheaded the primary day testing of election procedures, said he did nothing illegal and hopes it spurs changes in state election laws.

“Our job is to inform the public and expose the fraud,” O’Keefe told the New Hampshire Sunday News. “What comes next is up to the people of New Hampshire and not me.”

The video produced mixed reactions from Granite Staters: some condemning the secret taping and taking of ballots people weren’t entitled to receive, others saying it proved a voter photo ID bill is needed in New Hampshire.

Assistant Attorney General Richard Head said his office has begun its investigation of possible wrongdoing on primary day and couldn’t comment on specifics.

“The results of the investigation will be reviewed by the attorney general, at which time decisions will be made on what enforcement actions, if any, will be taken,” Head wrote in an email.

As for the new election guidelines, Head said, “separately, the attorney general and the secretary of state have assigned staff to evaluate election procedures relative to the maintenance of voter checklists and intend to issue guidance to election officials for maintaining and updating checklists. I expect that document will be issued in the near future.”

Normand said he provided the Attorney General’s Office with the names of five deceased people cited by Project Veritas representatives in their attempt to obtain ballots. Any ballots received were returned without a vote cast. Normand said it appeared from the video that Wards 1, 2, 6, 11 and 12 were involved. He also turned over the names of all poll workers from the affected wards to state prosecutors.

In Manchester’s Ward 9, a person was stopped from obtaining a ballot after the moderator recognized the name being used. Normand said that incident wasn’t included in the video.

O’Keefe said that episode and one more when a ballot was obtained were not included because of a “technical error in the camera equipment.” He said his Washington, D.C.-based group obtained 10 ballots, but didn’t furnish a breakdown by community.

In Manchester’s Ward 6, ballot inspector Deborah Gardner, the sister-in-law of the secretary of state, said a person gave the name of someone on the checklist, but shortly thereafter admitted he wasn’t that person, who had died about 10 days earlier.

“He never was even close to getting that ballot,” said Gardner, who already favored requiring an ID to get a ballot.

Asked whether the current voting system was flawed, Gardner said: “I think they showed that.”

Bill Gardner, who favors a photo ID system, wasn’t available for comment.

Normand didn’t fault election workers and wants those involved in making the video prosecuted.

“The ward officials followed the procedures that exist today,” Normand said.

O’Keefe didn’t blame the poll workers, either.

“It seems they are not trained by the state of New Hampshire to be on guard for voter fraud,” he said.

In Goffstown, Town Moderator Rodney Stark said a person at the Bartlett Elementary School polling place asked for the name of a deceased voter and received a ballot. The man returned the ballot, saying he preferred not to vote until after he had produced his voter identification, Stark said.

Stark said he had “split emotions” about what happened. While saying he believed it was a violation of state election laws, Stark added, “The video demonstrated that maybe the system needs to be looked at.”

He was bothered by another aspect. “They’ve sort of trampled on the sanctity of these deceased people” by listing their names on the video, Stark said.

In Bedford, Town Clerk Lori Radke said a man with a British-sounding accent asked whether an identification was needed, and he never returned.

The poll worker “was ready to give the ballot,” but the man said he would feel more comfortable getting his ID, Radke said.

Asked what should happen to the man, she said: “That’s up to the attorney general. If they broke the law, they definitely should be held accountable.”

In Nashua, City Clerk Paul Bergeron said polling stations in Wards 1, 3, 5 and 9 were shown on the video. He thinks there were three incidents of people involved with Veritas taking ballots they weren’t entitled to. A fourth incident involved a poll worker telling a man that the name given wasn’t on the checklist and instructing the man he would have to register to vote, Bergeron said.

One incident, previously reported, involved someone citing a person’s name where there were two people with that same name on the voter checklist. One person was alive and the other person recently deceased.

“I’m pretty sure they took possession of the (ballot) of the individual who was alive,” Bergeron said.

He said a problem with updating voter lists is the city clerk’s office may never get a notice of a person’s death if a Nashua resident dies in a Massachusetts hospital.

Lucille Forest, the assistant moderator in Ward 11 and wife of former Ward 12 Alderman Armand Forest, said a man took a ballot and then insisted he go and get an ID to show. He gave her back the ballot.

Forest said she’s torn about requiring an ID because some people don’t have ID and requiring it would lengthen the lines at polling places.

“If they want to do any voter fraud, they’ll find a way — even with an ID,” Forest said.

Debbie Lane, a ballot inspector at Manchester’s Ward 1 polling place, said someone cited a name with a pronunciation she wasn’t accustomed to hearing. She said she paused, but did offer the man a colored poker chip, which a voter trades in for the correct party’s ballot at another table.

“I wasn’t sure what I was allowed to do,” Lane said. “He told me the address again, and he told me the name, and I can’t tell someone not to vote, I suppose.”

The man returned the chip and said he would get his photo ID, but didn’t return.

Lane suggested that perhaps voters should be required to cite the last four digits of their Social Security number.

Said O’Keefe: “I’m going to define success when your system is free of fraud, when dead people stop voting.”