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Wanted: Inspectors to monitor elections

By DAVE SOLOMON
New Hampshire Union Leader

July 08. 2018 10:12PM




CONCORD — When he was a moderator for Rochester elections, Republican state Sen. Jim Gray noticed the political parties were not always taking advantage of their opportunity to provide what are called “inspectors of elections” for each polling place.

Since neither Democrats nor Republicans were sending monitors with any consistency, Gray proposed doing away with the provision.

“The parties never appointed anyone,” he said. “But when we looked at doing away with the inspectors, we talked to the Secretary of State and he said they should remain, because in a place where only Democrats or Republicans are the elected election officials (like moderator or supervisors of the checklist), this ensures there will be at least someone from the opposing party to monitor what’s going on.”

Gray successfully had amendments to election law passed in the hope of simplifying the process and increasing compliance.

The most recent change, which took effect in 2015, is now embodied in state law as RSA 658:2, which states, “Each state political committee of the two political parties which received the largest number of votes cast for governor at the last previous general election is authorized through their respective chairmen to appoint between May 15 and July 15 of each general election year two inspectors of election to act at each polling place.”

Leaving it local

With the July 15 deadline looming for parties to name their inspectors for the November election, Democrats say they are doing their best, while the state Republican Party says it will continue to leave the selection up to local officials.

If the party appointments are not made by July 15, the task falls to selectmen, who historically have delegated it to town clerks in the weeks before Election Day.

Todd Cheewing, executive director of the Republican State Committee, says local officials have go-to people for these jobs, and there’s no need to reinvent the wheel.

“Perennially, it’s been folks who have done it in the past,” says Cheewing. “These are long-time folks in town who step up to the plate, in coordination with the selectmen and moderators. At the end of the day, if there’s a vacancy, the moderator or town clerks will let us know. When we hear of an issue in a particular town, we work with our local town committees and local activists on the ground to solve it.”

Recruiting under way

Democrats claim to be conducting a more centralized effort, coordinated by the state party.

“The NHDP has been recruiting election inspectors for nearly two months and will continue to do so until the July 15th deadline,” wrote NHDP Chair Ray Buckley in an email. “We are committed to working closely with town clerks and town and county committees to make sure that Democrats are represented at all polling locations in the state in November.”

According to Sarah Guggenheimer, a communications specialist at the Concord NHDP offices, the party is “working with town clerks to make sure there is less of a scramble.”

“It’s something we’ve been working on and will continue to work on through July 15,” she said.

The Secretary of State notified each party on May 15 as to how many inspectors are needed for the November election.

“The party has the right to do it,” says Secretary of State Bill Gardner. “If the party doesn’t do it, then the party forfeits the right to monitor the polling stations in their own interest.”

Checks and balances

Gardner describes the inspectors as a “check and balance” in the election process. “At the end of the day, if someone was electioneering, or an election official was heard telling people how to vote, it’s a check on things like that,” he said.

Gray believes the parties may have higher priorities when it comes to staffing the polls, and with a limited number of volunteers may be relying on the objectivity of the elected poll workers.

“Parties can have what are called observers, and observers can do things that an inspector of elections can’t do,” says Gray, “like go out and make phone calls for people to vote, come back in for a while, make a list, go out and make more phone calls.”

Observers, unlike inspectors, are not confined by the duties of a poll worker.

“So if the parties feel their interests are covered by these observers, who aren’t allowed inside the ropes at the polling places, then it’s a testament to the trustworthiness of the people who work the election,” he said.

dsolomon@unionleader.com


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