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N.H. officials take field trip to state archives

  • Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan talks with legislatators about the new HAVA system at the New Hampshire Archives building on South Fruit Street in Concord on Tuesday, December 19, 2017. GEOFF FORESTER—Concord Monitor

  • HAVA subject matter expert Colleen McCormick explains the ElectioNet system to a group of legislators at the New Hampshire State Archives building on South Fruit Street in Concord on Tuesday, December 19, 2017. GEOFF FORESTER—Concord Monitor

  • Dan Cloutier, assistant secretary of state, shows the new voting system at the New Hampshire State Archives building on South Fruit Street in Concord on Tuesday, December 19, 2017. GEOFF FORESTER—Concord Monitor



Monitor staff
Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Call it the calm before the storm. Weeks ahead of what could turn into a blistering battle over a proposed change to New Hampshire’s voting law, members of the House and Senate election law committees took a field trip – to the New Hampshire state archives.

On Tuesday, about a dozen legislators gathered around tables in the Archives and Records building in Concord, taking in a eclectic mix of history lessons and presentations from New Hampshire officials.

Secretary of State Bill Gardner regaled participants on the background of William Plumer, founder of the NH Historical Society, and dove into the origins of New Hampshire’s legislature.

“When people wonder why does New Hampshire have the biggest legislature in the country, (the reason is) each colony had their own issue with the king,” he said. “New Hampshire’s issue was representation.”

State archivist Brian Burford showed off some of New Hampshire’s most valuable documents, including an original etching of the Declaration of Independence – one of only 27 in existence and with a price tag of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Other officials stuck to the present, delivering presentations touting New Hampshire’s present voting system, which the Electoral Integrity Project found to be the third best in the country in 2016.

The visit comes ahead of a vote next session on House Bill 372, an update to the state’s definition of residency that Democrats say would force college students to declare residency and obtain driver’s licensees to vote. That bill, which left the Senate Election Law committee with an “ought to pass” recommendation, heads to a battle on the floor, while earlier voting legislation – Senate Bill 3 – will be tied up in court through August.

But despite approaching tension, the presentations Tuesday took a lighter tone. One presentation, at the Secretary of State’s training center for election officials, grabbed particular attention: a demonstration of technology the office is developing to allow people with disabilities to cast votes using touch screen tablets and keyboards.

The tablets, which are federally funded and were deployed at polling stations in the 2016 presidential election, have undergone a number of changes over the months to improve user experience and assure greater voter privacy, according to Assistant Secretary of State Dan Cloutier.

It was unclear how, if at all, the legislators’ tour might affect future policy choices. But for Sen. James Gray, vice chairman of the Election Law committee, the visit highlighted one thing: just how much responsibility falls on Gardner and his office.

“He’s tasked with an awful lot of things,” Gray said.

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