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Dan Tuohy's Granite Status: Gardner welcomes AG view on voter info

By DAN TUOHY
July 06. 2017 4:26AM


Secretary of State Bill Gardner says he welcomes a legal opinion from the state's attorney general on his plan to send voter information to President Donald Trump's "election integrity" commission.

"I think, legally, we have the authority to send it," Gardner said in an interview Wednesday.

Both of the major political parties in the state have used the voter information for years; the data is available for purchase.

Gov. Chris Sununu, R-Newfields, defended the state's chief election officer amid fresh criticism from two Democrats on the Executive Council that Gardner was allowing himself to be somehow complicit in a commission created after Trump's unfounded allegations of widespread voter fraud in the 2016 presidential election.

And there was yet another twist in the story Wednesday, as House Minority Leader Steve Shurtleff, D-Concord, began a petition effort with the hope that a possible special legislative session could be called to consider and clarify what kind of voter information the Secretary of State could send to the commission. House Majority Leader Dick Hinch, R-Merrimack, called Shurtleff's move "political grandstanding."

Sununu emphasized that no private information would be sent to the commission, of which Vice President Mike Pence is chairman.

"Seems very hypocritical to me when they (Democrats) are using the information for their own purposes and the federal government is simply asking for access to a system they built," he said. "They are essentially asking us to repress what is already public information."

The political firestorm is such that Gardner, a Democrat who was named to the President's commission in May, was in the office on Independence Day, fielding phone calls and answering complaints.

Granite Staters should know, he said, that the voter checklist is a public document. The state will not be sharing anyone's Social Security number or date of birth, he said. "We are sending names, address, and party affiliation."

Executive councilors Chris Pappas and Andru Volinsky are objecting to the state providing the information to the commission, which was created by executive order.

"It's wrong-headed for the Secretary of State and the governor to be releasing this information," Pappas said. "I think this commission was set up under the guise of trying to pass more restrictive voting laws at the federal and state level."

Gardner once again countered Trump's unsubstantiated claim of major voter fraud, including in the Granite State. "We've never had any proof of that," he said.

Still, Gardner said that one reason he agreed to be part of the commission, which holds its first meeting July 19, is that there is a widespread perception that voter fraud exists. If New Hampshire were to join the list of other states rejecting requests for the voter data, he contends that it would only contribute to the controversy.

"We don't have anything to hide in this process," he said.

Criticism of sharing the voter data is partly from people opposed to Trump, according to Gardner. "A lot of this is anti the President," he said.

Volinsky, in a letter to Gardner and Sununu, maintains that the commission's purpose is to undermine confidence in state and federal elections to make the case for more restrictive voting laws.

"To be clear, you are not required to provide the information requested," Volinsky wrote. "The commission has not issued an order or a duly authorized subpoena. Your actions most likely violate New Hampshire law."

Volinsky said he fears the commission will allow for commercial exploitation of New Hampshire voter information. He raises a section in the law that states, "Any person may view the data that would be available on the public checklist ... but the person viewing the data at the state records and archives may not print, duplicate, transmit or alter the data."

Per state law, the Secretary of State shall, upon request, provide political parties, political committee, and candidates for county, state or federal office the list of voters, their address, party affiliation and voter history, meaning whether the person voted.

So far this year, the Secretary of State has sold five lists at a cost of about $8,300 each. In 2016, 17 statewide lists were sold for about $8,260 each, according to the Secretary of State's office. There were 10 lists sold in 2015, and 11 lists sold in 2014. The four years combined generated approximately $354,920.

Nearly half of the lists were purchased by a political party.

Both Democrats and Republicans use the information to build up their own voter lists, with great emphasis on get-out-the-vote campaigns.

Former state Democratic Party Chairwoman Kathy Sullivan, who is a national committeewoman for New Hampshire, said the party has worked for years to produce its customized voter file. According to Sullivan, the voter information is not the issue here, rather, it's the presidential commission's intent to promote widespread voter fraud when there is none.

Jeanie Forrester, state GOP chairwoman, said the voter information is useful for candidates and for outreach.

She said Gardner appears within his authority to send the publicly available information to the commission. "His integrity is unquestionable. He looks out for New Hampshire voters," she said.

Hinch, the House GOP leader, said Shurtleff's bid for a special legislative session is a "circus-like endeavor."

"Voter lists with basic information have been available for public review for decades," he said in statement. "They are the basis for how our political parties and candidates contact voters. If Democrats had a genuine concern about the availability of the data, they had decades to change the law. By petitioning for a special session, they demonstrate their political motives and their disregard for the usual and customary legislative process."

Shurtleff said the petition process requires at least 50 state representatives and eight senators. He hopes it gets some bipartisan support. The state law for special sessions, on the books in 1945, holds that the petition "shall state the reason or reasons why the public welfare requires a special session of the general court."

Regarding Gardner sending the voter information to the commission, Shurtleff thinks the bar has been met. "I just think it would be inappropriate," he said.

Gardner said he anticipates the legal opinion from the AG as soon as next week, at which time his office would prepare to send the data to the commission.


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QUICK TAKES:

• The NHGOP filed a state election law complaint Wednesday in connection with the Senate District 16 special election. The complaint alleges that "LMP New Hampshire" of Washington, D.C., sent a mailer to voters in the district when "no such committee has registered for the 2018 election cycle or the state Senate District 16 special election." A copy of the mailer, which supports Democrat Kevin Cavanaugh, includes a quote of endorsement from U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH. LMP New Hampshire did register with the Secretary of State in 2016 for the purpose of supporting Democrats for the Legislature. The special election is July 25. Former Sen. David Boutin, R-Hooksett, and Libertarian Jason Dubrow of Dunbarton are also in the race.

• Erika Connors, a Democrat who serves on the Manchester School Board, is the lone candidate filing papers for the Democratic nomination for the special election in Hillsborough County District 15, which is Manchester Ward 8. Andy Parent and Albert E. MacArthur Jr. are vying for the GOP nomination. The primary is Sept. 19. The special election is Nov. 7.

• U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-NH, and U.S. Rep. Ann McLane Kuster, D-NH, will be at Riverbend Community Mental Health in Concord today to discuss the role of Medicaid in mental health services and in efforts to combat the opioid and substance misuse epidemic. This is one in a series of similar events by Hassan and the all-Democrat congressional delegation in opposition to the pending GOP plans to replace Obamacare.

• Still, they walk: campaign finance reform advocates will make like the late Doris "Granny D" Haddock this Sunday and walk from Kittery, Maine, across the Memorial Bridge, to a rally in Portsmouth's Market Square. The "NH Rebellion" walk begins at 2 p.m. at the John Paul Jones historic site on Route 1 in Kittery. Speakers will include John Rauh, the founder of Americans for Campaign Reform, and a former candidate for U.S. Senate in New Hampshire.

• Republican congressional candidates Eddie Edwards and Andy Sanborn will be among those to speak at the Coalition of NH Taxpayers' annual picnic Saturday, noon to 4 p.m., at the American Legion Henry J. Sweeney Post 2, in Manchester. Hal Shurtleff of Camp Constitution is the featured speaker. CNHT Chairman Ed Naile will speak further about participation in a "multi-state voter fraud prevention" program, according to the coalition's advisory.

Dan Tuohy covers politics and government for the Union Leader and Sunday News. Email news and information to dtuohy@unionleader.com.

 


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