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Gardner heads to D.C. as election integrity panel's work begins

New Hampshire Union Leader

July 18. 2017 10:33PM

Secretary of State Bill Gardner, ahead of today’s first meeting of President Donald Trump’s commission on election integrity, said he stands by his view that it is appropriate, and legal, for him to share voter data as requested.

“This is public information,” he said in an interview before flying to Washington. “It’s public. It’s always been public.”

His position continues to rankle some in New Hampshire who say the intent of state law is to maintain privacy of the voter registration rolls. Other critics complain the commission was created on a lie — the Trump administration’s unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud.

“It seems to be more about the President’s ego and his concern about losing the popular vote,” said House Minority Leader Steve Shurt­leff, D-Concord.

The commission, an advisory body created by executive order May 11, requested June 28 that states provide “publicly available voter roll data.”

That request is now on hold because of legal challenges. It included data, if available under state law, on the full names of registered voters, their addresses and dates of birth, political party, the last four digits of their Social Security number, voter history, and information regarding any felony convictions, registration in another state, military status, and overseas citizen data.

Gardner has said he will comply with the request, or part of it, in that he plans to send names, addresses, party affiliation, and voter history.

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu said he supports Gardner in sharing that information because it is public.

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire filed a lawsuit July 6 in Hillsborough County Superior Court to try to block Gardner from sending the information. The suit, which includes Rep. Neal Kurk, R-Weare, and Sen. Bette Lasky, D-Nashua, as plaintiffs, contends that Gardner lacks authority to send the information because state law on the checklist is intended to have stricter privacy standards.

That the information is available on a computer in Concord does not mean all the data is meant to be shared on a public website maintained by the commission, which could be a cyber security risk, the ACLU says. The ACLU-NH suit is on pause pending the Electronic Privacy Information Center’s petition in Washington for a restraining order. Attorneys for the commission maintain, “No private information will be imperiled.”

In an election in which Russia is alleged to have interfered in order to support Trump, the President has regularly claimed that he won despite widespread voter fraud. Three weeks after he won, Trump wrote on Twitter that he would have won the popular vote, if not for “serious voter fraud in Virginia, New Hampshire and California.”

The New Hampshire Secretary of State’s Office responded that it is unaware of any major voter fraud. When Trump adviser Stephen Miller repeated claims of alleged fraud in the state earlier this year, former Attorney General Tom Rath replied on Twitter, “Allegations of voter fraud in New Hampshire are baseless, without merit — it’s shameful to spread these fantasies.”

The governor has said he is unaware of any widespread voter fraud. And Gardner, a Democrat who is the longest-serving Secretary of State in the nation, said he knows of no major voter fraud. He said he agreed to serve on the 15-member commission in order to support ways to boost confidence in voting, and counter the perception that voter fraud is prevalent.

The commission’s mission is to study voter registration and voting processes in federal elections, and identify what enhances and what might undermine public confidence in the integrity of elections. It will identify potential vulnerabilities in voting systems that could lead to improper registrations and voting, including fraud.

The commission is scheduled to convene at 11 a.m. at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. Commission members will be sworn in. Vice President Mike Pence, the chairman, will deliver remarks, followed by introductions of members. Kobach will lead a discussion on the panel’s mission, its bylaws and procedures, and potential topics to address.

When asked, Gardner said there will be no New Hampshire taxpayer funds spent.

Under the scope of the President’s executive order, the federal General Services Administration is to provide the commission services, including administrative support funds, facilities, staff, and equipment. The estimated annual costs to operate are about $250,000 in fiscal year 2017, and $250,000 in fiscal year 2018, which includes three full-time employees, or their equivalent, over the two years, according to the commission’s charter.

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