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Dave Solomon's State House Dome: Lots of info in voter database

By DAVE SOLOMON
June 17. 2018 1:34AM




The outcome of lawsuits filed by the state Democratic Party and League of N.H. Voters over the state's new law governing Election Day registration (SB 3) remains to be seen, but the legal maneuvering has already had one benefit. It's brought attention to the kind of information the state collects on voters, which goes well beyond name, address and party affiliation.

The Democrats and LVW have been pressing for access to the voter database to help make their case that the new law disproportionately affects young, minority and naturalized citizens trying to vote. The attorney general is fighting release of the data, with help from the Legislature, and is seeking a state Supreme Court ruling on the question.

The statewide voter database, created by order of the Help America Vote Act of 2002, is the master file, and it's rich with voter data. In addition to name, address and party affiliation, it includes driver's license information, birth date, naturalization information or place of birth, and voting history.

If the voter had no driver's license to show at registration, the last four digits of their Social Security number are included instead. On election day, if a voter signs an affidavit to obtain a ballot or register to vote, that information is added to the database as well, for follow-up and verification.

State and local election officials have access to the database through a password protected site called ElectionNet, so information can be updated and changes communicated back and forth.

The state never sells the statewide voter database, and is prohibited by law from doing so. The $8,000 statewide voter file available only to political parties, candidates or a registered political committee, consists only of the public checklist (name, address and party affiliation) along with one other item - voter history for the past two years (voted, did not vote).

In their lawsuit over SB 3, the Democrats and LVW have been successful in convincing a Superior Court judge to grant them access to key data fields in the master database. The state wants that decision overturned.

"The request by the attorneys for the League and the Democrats was for the entire database," says David Scanlan, deputy secretary of state for elections. "Then they said we could restrict certain items."

The lawsuit has been moved from Nashua to Manchester because the Nashua judge recused himself, but the bench trial is still expected to get underway in August.

"What we are asking in the lawsuit is access to the information that the state already sells, plus the naturalization status, date of birth and place of birth of voters in order to allow a Dartmouth professor to crunch the data to see if there are a disproportionate number of young, minority or naturalized citizens affected by SB 3," says attorney Paul Twomey.

"We have specifically told the court and the state that we do not need driver's license information, Social Security numbers or any other non-public information for this limited purpose."

The Supreme Court has yet to decide if it will overrule the Superior Court on the limited release of the database to the SB 3 plaintiffs, let the lower court ruling stand, or remand the decision in some fashion to the new judge. A decision should be forthcoming any day now.


Having a say on Sunapee

Turns out the state will have a say in the sale of the lease on state-owned Mount Sunapee resort. The last time the lease changed hands in 2017, the state was boxed out as an intervener because of the way the transaction was structured.

Without the involvement or knowledge of state officials, the lease was transferred to a New York hedge fund with a troublesome history. There was much gnashing of teeth, but nothing the state could do. When state officials learned two weeks ago that the lease was going to change hands once again, this time to Vail Resorts, the attorney general was uncertain as to the state's status in the transaction.

It took a little more than a week, but on Friday, Attorney General Gordon MacDonald announced that the Vail deal is structured in such a way as to allow the state to intervene, although it's highly unlikely the state will oppose the transaction.

"The approval of the lease must be given by the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources," MacDonald announced in a letter to the Executive Council. "That process has started and the parties, through their attorneys, have been cooperative."

The Department of Natural and Cultural Resources will be posting documents on its website, and scheduling at least one public information session.

dsolomon@unionleader.com


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