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Secretary of State releases voter data he would have given Trump commission

By DAVE SOLOMON
State House Bureau

April 02. 2018 11:40PM
New Hampshire Secretary of State William Gardner, flanked by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson, defended New Hampshire's election process during the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity at St. Anselm College in September 2017. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER FILE PHOTO)



CONCORD — President Trump’s ill-fated Advisory Commission on Election Integrity is history, but the New Hampshire voter checklists from the November 2016 election prepared for the commission are now available.

Every town from Acworth to Woodstock, and every ward of every city, is included in the collection of PDF files provided by the Secretary of State. The images of actual checklist pages include hand-written notations and strike-through markings that make it impossible to scan the material into a searchable database.

The 2016 file is scanned, redacted and available for review at the State Archives, 71 S. Fruit St., Concord.

The marked-up checklists from every precinct in the state contain the name, address and party affiliation of every registered voter. Those who voted are crossed off, so anyone looking at the list can tell who voted and who didn’t.

The checklists also contain a barcode that corresponds to the voter identification number assigned to each voter.

The names of voters who registered at the polls on Election Day are handwritten at the bottom of each checklist. There’s also a column for “challenged voter affidavit,” which, if checked, indicates that a voter voted without proper identification and is now obliged to verify domicile.

The state has routinely maintained copies of checklists from all general elections and the presidential primary, switching from microfilm to PDF files about 10 years ago, according to State Archivist Brian Nelson.

High level of interest

The fact that the material was being prepared for submission to the Trump election commission triggered an unusual level of interest in the files. Several media organizations, including the New Hampshire Union Leader, filed Right-to-Know requests, largely to see exactly what the state was sending to the commission.

Trump disbanded the commission earlier this year, after it was hit by several lawsuits and stymied by states that refused to turn over their election data. Late last week, the Secretary of State provided the files as requested.

“There’s a misconception that this was done for the commission,” said Nelson. “We used to have microfiche, and we went from microfiche to scanning. There has always been a way to capture (the checklists) and preserve them, and make them available to anyone who wants to come in and look at them.”

The checklists are considered public documents under the state’s Right-to-Know law, something Gardner repeatedly pointed out when he was under fire for agreeing to participate in the Trump commission and submit the state’s data.

“We started the scanning process for the 2016 general election before the Trump commission was even formed ... months before,” said Nelson.

Private info redacted

In the process of assembling the material for the commission, the state noticed that election volunteers in some precincts were making hand-written notations containing private information that should not appear on the checklists.

“We learned with this presidential commission request that there are some problems at the local level with respect to what is being written in the margins,” said Eric Forcier, an attorney in the Secretary of State’s office.

Private information had to be redacted from the checklists prior to their release, and the Secretary of State provide guidance to local election officials “to ensure that non-public information is not included on publicly available checklists,” according to the Attorney General.

The handwritten notes have been cleansed from the November 2016 checklist, but not from other years.

“If someone asked for 2014 right now, we’d have to review it manually to be sure this problem doesn’t exist,” said Forcier. “So, yes, it’s scanned, it’s centralized, but we’d have to take some time to make sure sensitive information isn’t released.”

dsolomon@unionleader.com


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