×

N.H.’s full voter database isn’t publicly accessible, as presidential commission suggests

  • A computer at the research room of the state’s Division of Archives and Records Management building shows photocopies of records from past voter checklists. The state’s centralized voter registration database isn’t allowed to be photographed, according to the division. NICK REID / Monitor staff



Monitor staff
Thursday, July 06, 2017

Two old Dell computers sit at the front of the expansive research room at the state’s Division of Archives and Records Management building on South Fruit Street in Concord.

The one on the left has a sticky note that says it’s not for public use. The one on the right is the everyday citizen’s access point to New Hampshire’s statewide centralized voter registration database.

But the dated software on that terminal can’t display a full list of New Hampshire voters, and even if it could, the staff prohibits users from copying the data or even taking notes, effectively preventing an individual from creating his or her own database of names, addresses and party affiliations.

The information contained in states’ voter rolls has come under a spotlight ever since the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity requested voter information from all 50 states.

The commission requested voters’ names, addresses, party affiliations, dates of birth, partial Social Security numbers, and information about felony convictions and military status, “if publicly available under the laws of your state,” according to a letter sent to the states.

The vice chairman of the commission, Kris Kobach, who is Kansas’s secretary of state, said that the commission “only requested information that is already publicly available.”

“Any person on the street can walk into a county election office and obtain a publicly-available copy of that state’s voter rolls – which usually includes voter name, address, date of birth, and the recent elections in which the voter participated,” he wrote in a Breitbart article.

But here in New Hampshire, Kobach’s description of the record retrieval process doesn’t check out.

And even though Secretary of State Bill Gardner says he will turn over public voter information to the president’s commission, the public has no way of obtaining the entire electronic database.

To obtain a copy of the database, a person either has to be a candidate for office or a representative of a political party or political committee, according to state Sen. Bette Lasky, who is one of the plaintiffs in an American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire lawsuit seeking to block the disclosure of voters’ information.

Those people or groups also have to pay a fee relative to the number of records they’re requesting. Most recently, the New Hampshire Republican State Committee bought voter checklists at the start of June for $8,327.

And the free version, at the dusty Dell computer in the research room, is inadequate to satisfy the type of request made by the commission. Its 2006 software won’t show the complete list of registered voters – it can respond only to searches for specific names and addresses – and displays only voters’ names, addresses and party affiliations, hiding dates of birth and Social Security numbers.

Even if it produced the necessary information, users of that computer aren’t allowed to copy the data they find. Brian Burford, the state archivist, said computer users aren’t even allowed to take handwritten notes. That’s the division’s interpretation of a restriction in the state law that says, “the person viewing data at the state records and archives center may not print, duplicate, transmit or alter the data.”

Beyond that, there are nearly 1 million registered voters in New Hampshire, and a search for the name Smith would take a viewer 970 clicks – and much more scribbling – before he or she could scroll through and copy down all the pages of results.

There’s a separate set of records that are eligible for note-taking but equally unwieldy: photocopies of the voter checklists from each election. These are kept as PDF documents accessible on the same computer, though the most recent set available was from 2008.

They show the same information – name, address, party affiliation – and are kept in individual documents for each town, city or ward. For the 2008 general election, there were more than 300 documents ranging from three to 1,132 pages – and none of the photocopied information is searchable.

In other words, if “any person on the street” were to walk into the research room and try to compile the records the commission is requesting, he or she would need much longer than the commission’s July 14 deadline to form even a partial list.

(Nick Reid can be reached at 369-3325, nreid@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at
@NickBReid.)