Hearing to block release of voter info scheduled for Aug. 7 

  • FILE - In this Nov. 4, 2015, file photo, New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, left, 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 at the Secretary of State's office in Concord, N.H. Gardner has been defending the request for detailed voter information from the Trump administration's commission on voter fraud. Gardner, a member of the commission, plans to provide publicly-accessible information, though critics argue state law allows the entire database to be provided only to political parties, political committees and candidates. Gardner is facing criticism for his decision, including from residents who inundated his office with calls. (AP Photo/Jim Cole, File)

Monitor staff
Published: 7/27/2017 4:03:01 PM

The state’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has reinstated its lawsuit against New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner challenging his decision to comply with the Trump administration’s request for voter data.

The suit, which the ACLU-NH filed on behalf of two state lawmakers earlier this month, was put on hold pending separate litigation on the matter filed in the District of Columbia. On Monday, a federal judge ruled in that case that President Donald Trump’s Election Integrity Commission could go forward with its request to all 50 states for publicly available voter information.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center, a privacy watchdog group, had sought an injunction against the request on the grounds that it violated a federal privacy law. The Washington judge ruled that the commission was a presidential advisory panel – not a federal agency – and so wasn’t subject to the law. EPIC has appealed.

The president’s election commission has asked states to turn over information from their voter rolls, including partial Social Security numbers, birthdays, criminal records and military status for individual voters.

Gardner, who is not only New Hampshire’s secretary of state but also a member of Trump’s commission, has said that he would share the Granite State’s voter information with Washington that he considered public – including names, addresses and party affiliations – but not private details like Social Security numbers.

“I intend to release that public information, and expect to end up doing that,” he said Thursday.

In its suit, the ACLU-NH argues that Gardner doesn’t have the authority to do so. According to New Hampshire law, the state can – and regularly does – sell its voter rolls to political parties, committees and candidates. The general public, on the other hand, can view the statewide checklist at the state archives but cannot print, copy or manipulate the data. They can also go town-by-town, ward-by-ward to buy hard copies of local checklists for $25 apiece.

Paul Twomey, co-counsel with the ACLU, said the ruling in the federal suit didn’t foreshadow an outcome in the local lawsuit. The ACLU’s challenge is based on New Hampshire law – not federal statutes.

“The state law is completely explicit as to both the types of information that can be given out, the recipients that it can be given to, and the manner of transmission. All three of those things are important,” he said.

State law includes a “very clear, explicit limitation” on the secretary of state’s power, Twomey said, which is unique to New Hampshire.

“I haven’t read anything about any other state that limits the form of the dissemination of the information. The form of the dissemination of the information is very important because what you can do with a big database is you can start matching it up with other publicly available databases, and you can then put these things together in a way that you can get some very private information about people,” he said.

The election commission has amended its original request for voter data. It had originally said that whatever information it collected would be made publicly available, but now says personally identifiable information won’t be released to the public.

The ACLU-NH’s suit had argued that disseminating the information publicly would make it susceptible to commercial exploitation, contrary to New Hampshire law. But the commission’s assurances don’t change the legal limitations at play, the ACLU said Thursday.

“A requester saying ‘trust me’ does not permit the Secretary of State to disclose information to an unauthorized recipient,” ACLU-NH Legal Director Gilles Bissonnette said in a statement.

A hearing has been set for 1:30 p.m. Aug. 7 at the Hillsborough Superior Court in Nashua.

(Nick Reid contributed to this report. Lola Duffort can be reached at 369-3321 or lduffort@cmonitor.com.)

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