BRENTWOOD — A Rockingham County jury has found Atkinson resident Robert Bell guilty of voting in more than one state after he admitted he cast ballots in New Hampshire and Florida in last November’s general election.
Jurors reached their verdict against the 77-year-old Air Force veteran early Wednesday afternoon following closing arguments in which a state prosecutor insisted Bell knew that voting in the same election in both states was wrong, while his defense argued that he never intended to commit a crime.
The felony conviction, which followed a day of testimony in Rockingham County Superior Court, means Bell now faces a maximum 3½ to seven years in prison, up to a $4,000 fine, and could lose the right to vote under the New Hampshire Constitution.
While the law allows for prison time, it’s possible he could receive only suspended time when he is sentenced on Nov. 7.
Bell, who used to own a home in Florida, admitted that he had voted early at a polling location in Palm Coast, Fla., on Nov. 1, during a visit. He returned to New Hampshire and ended up voting in the same election for state and federal offices on Nov. 6 in Atkinson.
Alan Cronheim, Bell’s defense lawyer, maintained that the case was more about confusion than a crime.
During the investigation into his double voting, Bell originally gave the wrong dates for when he visited Florida and voted early there, but later clarified the dates for authorities and apologized for his mistake.
“Confusing dates does not equal a lack of criminal intent. … There was no confusion when the defendant deliberately chose the candidates he wanted in both states,” Assistant Attorney General Nick Chong Yen told jurors.
Chong Yen also said Bell, a registered Republican, was aware that Florida’s gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races were tight and that he was more interested in them.
“Based on this information the defendant knew his vote in Florida would be significant,” he said.
Chong Yen also referred to Bell’s own testimony Tuesday in which he said he thought the Atkinson election covered only town races, but realized there was an issue when he saw that state and federal offices were on the ballot, including the race for New Hampshire governor.
Chong Yen said that after discovering the problem, Bell admitted that he never asked an election official at the polls if he could vote. Instead, he said, Bell finished voting.
“Those are not the choices of a confused person,” Chong Yen said.
Defense attorney Alan Cronheim told jurors there was no dispute that Bell voted in both states.
“I’ll suggest that he didn’t do it with criminal intent,” he said.
Cronheim said Bell never tried to hide the fact that he voted twice when he was first confronted by members of the political activist organization Project Veritas, which questioned him about the election and distributed a video showing Bell admitting to voting twice.
Bell even called Atkinson police to complain about Project Veritas, only to end up getting charged with a crime.
“For people who intend and know they committed a crime, you’re not going to self-report to the police department so that you can then be criminally charged,” Cronheim said, adding that the voting issue happened during a “dark period in his life” and that he simply made a mistake.
Cronheim also suggested to jurors that the Attorney General’s office, which prosecuted the case, could have brought a lesser charge of wrongful voting — a civil penalty carrying only a fine of up to $5,000.