My Turn: ACLU-NH lawsuit damaged voter confidence

For the Monitor
Published: 8/20/2017 12:25:15 AM

It was very disappointing to read an opinion piece in the Aug. 16 Monitor by Gilles Bissonnette of the ACLU-NH wholly mischaracterizing what fueled a debacle of his own making.

Bissonnette and the ACLU-NH raced to file a lawsuit over voter checklist information requested by the Presidential Commission on Election Integrity by making erroneous assumptions and by not understanding the facts before their attempt to raise unnecessary alarm and garnish headlines. This scheme only caused further damage to overall voter confidence and Wednesday’s article was a disingenuous attempt to place blame on the secretary of state.

Contrary to Bissonnette’s blatant mischaracterizations, here are the facts: On June 28, Kris Kobach, acting on behalf of the commission, sent each state a letter asking for the public information on that state’s “voter rolls.” The secretary of state treated this request as one made under the New Hampshire right-to-know law, a law requiring the production of certain public information. Upon receipt of the letter, the secretary of state began reviewing the request and available information in order to ensure that any response would be consistent with New Hampshire law.

Each state’s law varies on what voter information is considered public. Secretary of State Bill Gardner never said he was going to provide any information that was not already publicly available.

I informed Bissonette of this fact on June 30 via email and also informed him that the secretary of state planned to release only information that appears on the “marked checklist(s) used in an election.”

For Bissonnette to suggest that Secretary of State Gardner was going to send private voter information, including birth dates and the last four digits of Social Security numbers, as well as “other personal information,” is a complete fabrication that only served to needlessly provoke public outcry.

Bissonnette also claims that Secretary Gardner was contemplating sending the checklist information by way of some illegal method. In fact, in the same June 30 email, Bissonnette was informed the secretary of state was reviewing relevant statutes to make sure that any delivery of checklist information to the commission was in compliance with state law.

From the beginning, the secretary of state’s position has been that he would only provide the publicly available information contained within marked checklists in a manner consistent with state law.

As much as Bissonnette would like Concord Monitor readers to think otherwise, the ACLU-NH lawsuit did not impact any decision made by the secretary of state but instead incited unnecessary and deeply harmful political rhetoric.

While the very publicly hyped ACLU-NH lawsuit did not impact decisions of the secretary of state, it unfortunately had a negative impact on New Hampshire voters.

Countless voters called the secretary of state’s office and local election officials demanding that their names be removed from the voter rolls to protect their personal information. The ACLU-NH knew from at least June 30 that releasing personal voter information was never contemplated.

The obvious damage that has been done as a result of Bissonnette’s grandstanding is the shaken confidence of voters in their election processes and the officials they entrust to implement them. The ACLU-NH needs to ask itself what it really stands for and act accordingly.

If the mission of the ACLU-NH is to undermine voter confidence and have its proponents and members angrily withdraw from the elections process, then mission accomplished. If the mission of the ACLU-NH is actually something significantly more altruistic, which I have always believed it to be, then perhaps some soul-searching is in order.

(David Scanlan is deputy secretary of state for New Hampshire.)

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