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NH suit over release of voter info goes on despite new assurances

By DAVID SOLOMON
State House Bureau

August 03. 2017 12:50AM
President Donald Trump speaks at the first meeting of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity co-chaired by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach at the White House in Washington on July 19. (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

CONCORD — President Trump’s election integrity commission is now promising that none of the information it wants to collect on voter history will ever be made public, but that hasn’t swayed the two New Hampshire lawmakers challenging the request in court.

A lawsuit that seeks to prevent Secretary of State William Gardner from releasing voter information to the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity will move forward, starting with a hearing on Monday in Hillsborough County Superior Court.

Gardner, a Democrat, is a member of the commission.

Monday’s hearing in Nashua is on a request for a preliminary injunction to block the release of any New Hampshire voter information while the lawsuit filed on behalf of state Sen. Bette Lasky, D-Nashua, and Rep. Neal Kurk, R-Weare, works its way through the courts.

In an amended petition filed on July 28, attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union, representing Lasky and Kurk, say the change of heart by the commission regarding release of the information doesn’t address the issues raised in the lawsuit.

“Simply put, a requester saying ‘Trust me’ does not permit the Secretary of State to ignore the law and disclose information to unauthorized recipients,” according to the petition by ACLU attorney Gilles Bissonnette and independent attorney Paul Twomey of Chichester.

The two attorneys initially filed the lawsuit on July 6, but put it on hold on July 11, pending the outcome of a court case in Washington, D.C. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) is suing the presidential commission to block the data collection across the country.

The vice chair of the commission, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, also put a hold on his request for the state-by-state information while the restraining order was under consideration.

On July 24, the court in Washington denied the request for a temporary restraining order in the EPIC case. Kobach then renewed his request for the data, and the ACLU-NH reactivated its lawsuit.

In his initial request for the information on June 28, Kobach wrote that anything sent to the commission “will also be made available to the public.” But on July 26, in a letter renewing his request, Kobach reverses position on the public release of the data with no reference to the prior statement.

“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 registration records you submit,” he wrote in a letter to secretaries of state. “Individuals’ voter registration records will be kept confidential and secure throughout the duration of the commission’s existence.”

Kobach states that once the commission’s analysis is complete, the data will be disposed of.

“The only information that will be made public are statistical conclusions drawn from the data, other general observations that may be drawn from the data, and any correspondence that you may send to the commission in response to questions in the June 28 letter.”

Kobach also tries to address the concern that hackers will gain access to the information, offering the use of a secure data transfer portal operated by the White House.

Bissonnette and Twomey argue that New Hampshire’s Secretary of State lacks the authority to release the statewide checklist to anyone other than a political party, political committee or candidate for office, regardless of what the commission plans to do with it.

“Although the commission has now indicated that any personally identifiable information it receives will not be publicly released, this does nothing to change the fact that the release would violate New Hampshire law,” they wrote.

Lawyers from the Attorney General’s Office will defend the Secretary of State’s position that the release of the data is within the law, according to Deputy Secretary of State for Elections David Scanlon.

dsolomon@unionleader.com


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