NH fight on voter data release put on holdBy DAVE SOLOMON
State House Bureau
July 11. 2017 11:42PM
NASHUA — A court fight between two New Hampshire lawmakers and the state’s longtime Secretary of State over who gets voter data is on hold, at least for now.
A Superior Court hearing over the Secretary of State’s decision to provide voter information to a federal Commission on Election Integrity was postponed at the last minute in light of a national lawsuit filed by a group focused on electronic information privacy.
The hearing, scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Tuesday in Hillsborough County Superior Court, Nashua, was canceled after lawyers representing state Sen. Bette Lasky, D-Nashua, and Rep. Neal Kurk, R-Weare, filed a motion to stay the hearing, citing a complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by the Electronic Privacy Information Center.
The federal complaint names the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity and seeks a temporary restraining order on the commission’s nationwide data request until the privacy center can argue its case in court.
On Monday, a representative of the commission wrote to election officials in all 50 states, requesting that they not submit any data until the District Court in Washington, D.C., rules on the request.
“We will follow up with you with further instructions once the judge issues her ruling,” states the email from Andrew Kossack, designated federal officer for the commission.
Secretary of State Bill Gardner has agreed to comply with the commission’s request to hold off on submitting any data until receiving further notice, according to Gilles Bissonnette, legal director for the ACLU-NH.
Gardner is also awaiting an opinion from the state Attorney General on the matter.
Bissonnette, along with attorney Paul Twomey of Chichester, is representing Lasky and Kurk in the New Hampshire case.
“The parties agree that immediate resolution of the petitioner’s request for a preliminary injunction is, at this juncture, no longer necessary,” he wrote.
“If the commission renews its request or defendant plans on submitting any data, notice will be provided ... and if necessary, petitioners will make a formal filing renewing their request for a preliminary injunction hearing,” states the ACLU motion.
What happens next will depend on how the case proceeds in the District of Columbia, according to Bissonnette. “If as a result of the lawsuit there is still a request from the commission that this information be sought, then we will continue to do everything we can to ensure that state law is complied with.”
Kurk and Lasky, through their attorneys, take the position that any release of the statewide voter database is restricted by the conditions outlined in Chapter 654 of the state’s election law, in a section titled “Availability of Checklist and Voter Information.”
The law states that a digital version of the statewide database can only be made available to political candidates or political committees for campaign planning, and cannot be used for commercial purposes. The cost for obtaining the file is about $8,300.
“One of the arguments made in our lawsuit is that the conveyance of this information to the commission, especially where the commission has said that all information it would obtain is public, could undermine the Legislature’s rationale behind not wanting this information to be used for commercial purposes,” said Bisonnette.
In its lawsuit, filed July 3, the Electronic Privacy Information Center argues that the presidential commission failed to conduct a Privacy Impact Assessment, required by federal law, prior to collecting personal voter data.
“The commission’s demand for detailed voter histories also violates millions of Americans’ constitutional right to privacy,” according to a statement from the Washington, D.C.-based organization.
“The commission had already committed egregious security blunders, including directing state election officials to send voter records to an unsecured web site and proposing to publish partial Social Security numbers that would enable identity theft and financial fraud.”
A hearing was held before U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly on July 7, and a ruling is expected shortly.
Gardner has said in the past that New Hampshire does not collect Social Security numbers as part of its voter checklist information and would not be releasing any information that is not already publicly available.
He was unavailable for comment on Tuesday.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center, established in 1994, says its goal is to “focus public attention on emerging privacy and civil liberties issues and to protect privacy, freedom of expression, and democratic values in the information age.”