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Push to send New Hampshire voter data stalls amid D.C. uncertainty

  • New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner watches at left as Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump reacts after filling out his filing papers to be on the nation's earliest presidential primary ballot, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015,at The Secretary of State's office in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole) Jim Cole

  • FILE - In this Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017 file photo, New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, right, introduces one of the speakers at a meeting of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity in Manchester, N.H. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, center, and former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, left, also attend. The information coming out of President Donald Trump’s commission to investigate voter fraud has frustrated not only reporters and senators but now even members of the commission. (AP Photo/Holly Ramer, File) Holly Ramer



Monitor staff
Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Months after Secretary of State Bill Gardner first announced his office’s intention to provide New Hampshire’s voter checklists to a White House commission on election integrity, the state’s top election official says he’s closer than ever to doing just that.

But when – and whether – that transfer will is still unclear. With communication between commission members sparse, the future of the endeavor remains up in the air.

Since August, the Attorney General’s Office has been reviewing the town-by-town checklists for publication after some had been found to contain handwritten private information. In an interview Monday, Gardner said he was informed by that office last week that the review is complete.

That means the secretary of state’s office should be close to releasing the voter checklists – which detail names, party affiliations, addresses, and a history of when a person voted or didn’t vote (but not who they voted for) – to the commission, Gardner said.

Gardner has been a member of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, since it was created by presidential executive order in May. On Friday, his office reached out to Andrew Kossack, the commission’s executive director, to ask how it might set up a secure electronic process to transfer the voter checklists.

“We’re just about ready to do it,” Gardner said of the transfer. “(But) we’re not going to send it until we hear back from them.”

New Hampshire’s Secretary of State’s office had not received a reply from Kossack by Monday afternoon, said Eric Forcier, an attorney with the office.

Kossack did not return an email seeking further information Monday. A separate query to the office of Vice President Mike Pence, who chairs the commission, was also not answered.

The request comes at a turbulent time for the commission, which has courted controversy since its inception. Born out of an assertion by President Donald Trump that 3 million to 5 million voters in the 2016 election voted illegally, the commission was charged with examining voting systems across the country and assessing the public’s confidence in the process.

But in the months since its creation, eight lawsuits have been filed against the investigatory body, many coming from advocacy groups who say it hasn’t been transparent. The Government Accountability Office announced it would open its own investigation into the commission at the urging of Democratic senators.

Amid the lawsuits, reports have stated that many commission members are wary of sending emails that could be later released, bringing communication among members to a halt. Since its Sept. 12 meeting at Saint Anselm college in Manchester, the commission has yet to schedule a event.

Despite criticism from fellow Democrats, Gardner has long defended his role on the commission, arguing that it could help shore up public confidence in elections.

In its early days, the commission reached out to all U.S. states to request personal voting information for analysis by the commission. At least 30 states said they would; others refused, citing conflicts with state law or privacy concerns.

Speaking Monday, Gardner said he’s unsure when Kossack might accept the offer of New Hampshire checklists, adding that the legal challenges may be stalling the commission’s response.

“We’ll just see,” he said. “I don’t know if he’s on vacation down there, or if they’re just waiting for these other lawsuits.”

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at edewitt@cmonitor.com, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)