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Federal election audit questions NH spending

By KEVIN LANDRIGAN
New Hampshire Union Leader

September 01. 2017 12:49AM




CONCORD — A federal performance audit said New Hampshire failed to get prior approval to use $1 million in federal election grant money as part of a $3.7 million renovation to the state archives building.

This was one of four conditions found in the 76-page audit the U.S. Election Assistance Commission published in the past week and posted in the Federal Register.

State election officials said they have been trying for more than seven years to get retroactive approval of that archives building spending state lawmakers first approved in 2003.

New Hampshire is one of the last states in the country to undergo this audit, which is mandatory under the Help America Vote Act of 2002.

That’s in part because most states have gone through much of their HAVA dollars through expenses such as purchasing new voting machines, holding training sessions and making polling places more accessible to the disabled and developmentally impaired.

New Hampshire received $18 million in these HAVA grants, and by the end of 2015 the state still had a $10.4 million balance.

This audit covered the period from the inception of the HAVA law, May 1, 2003, to Sept. 30, 2015.

Secretary of State William Gardner said the state has an enviable record of financial management of HAVA money.

“Since 1986, New Hampshire is one of a very few states that has not been sued by the federal Department of Justice for noncompliance with federal laws,” Gardner wrote in his response.

“The reason is clear; SOS takes the HAVA law seriously, has historically operated in good faith in these matters and has spent countless hours with minimal staff complying with the HAVA mandates, all within a time line prescribed by the HAVA law.”

McBride, Lock & Associates of Kansas City did the audit and federal officials have given Gardner’s office until Oct. 20 to respond to all conditions found in the report.

These were the findings in the audit:

• Lack policies: The audit found the Secretary of State’s Office lacks the policies and procedures about award administration, financial reporting, equipment management and other tasks.

• Inadequate record-keeping: The office improperly maintains property records or physically observes the inventory of them.

• Advance approval: The office failed to get federal approval in advance of spending $1 million on improvements to the archives building.

• Salary support: The office failed to provide the right amount of support for salary and wages that are charged to the grant.

The audit can be viewed below:



Assistant Secretaries of State Anthony Stevens and Daniel Cloutier were in charge of responding to the audit.

“It’s a pretty positive, professional audit,” Cloutier said.

“Every single expense they reviewed we were able to provide documentation for, and that was a huge effort on our part over a 13-year period.”

Stevens said their office asked federal officials as recently as June about the status of their request to get approval for spending the $1 million.

“The last response was to say they would wait until this audit came out,” Stevens said.

The HAVA program takes up 4,145 square feet of space in the archives building, where it has been the site for hands-on computer training for 2,246 local officials over 141 days. Stevens said they expect to train another 350 by the end of 2017.

New Hampshire by far elects the most election officials of any state in the country — about 2,400, according to the audit.

klandrigan@unionleader.com


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