Editorial: State needs more from Gardner

  • Secretary of State Bill Gardner Elizabeth Frantz

Friday, July 14, 2017

As New Hampshire’s secretary of state, Bill Gardner is tasked with protecting the voters and the election process here at home, a duty he has faithfully carried out with precision and vigilance for 41 years. He did not guard our interests, however, when he nonchalantly agreed to hand over 10 years of voter data to President Donald Trump’s sham “Election Integrity Commission.”

It’s bad enough that Gardner agreed to serve on the commission, which any reasonable observer can see was set up to give undeserved credibility to the president’s totally unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud in our elections, including here in New Hampshire. It is a waste of time and taxpayer money. Repeatedly, academics, researchers, Gardner and his colleagues across the country – those closest to the real facts – have flatly debunked Trump’s complaints.

Obviously we support election oversight, but that can be done here – through Gardner’s office, the attorney general and our Legislature. Like the critics, we, too, are concerned that the commission is using a totally false claim – widespread voter fraud – to come up with requirements that will just suppress the vote, like demanding proof of citizenship. Scrutiny of the commission’s activity, not acquiescence, is justified.

The commission has put the brakes on its voter data request to all 50 states until a federal court decides whether it is “unnecessary and excessive,” as the Electronic Privacy Center in Washington has claimed. No less than the most vigorous defender of personal privacy in the state Legislature, Rep. Neal Kurk, a Republican, went to state court with state Sen. Bette Lasky, a Democrat, to try to stop Gardner from going forward – that is also on hold.

Meanwhile, according to the latest count by the Associated Press, 17 states and the District of Columbia say they won’t turn over any information at all.

No matter how it turns out in court, Gardner should listen to the heartfelt, not partisan, concerns of so many voters who in their letters to this newspaper have asked him – in some cases implored him – to keep all information about our voters here in our state, under the control of state and local election officials. Where it belongs.

What’s the fear, Gardner asks? The voter information he says he’d turn over, which includes voters’ names, addresses, party affiliation and voting history, is all “publicly available.”

But just because some basic information is public doesn’t mean that Gardner should automatically hand it over, to be added to a massive, potentially nonsecure national data bank, especially, as Gardner told the Monitor, because he wasn’t sure what the commission planned to do with all that information about us. How about asking? No law says he has to turn it over to the commission – in fact the existing state law on public access to the state’s centralized voter database is deliberately restrictive to protect voters. Gardner has the ability to respectfully decline at his discretion.

Even Michael Chertoff, the U.S. Homeland Security secretary under President George W. Bush, has raised national security concerns about the federal government assembling such a huge database on millions of Americans.

It’s not playing politics, as Gov. Chris Sununu suggested, to resist the commission’s sweeping request and question, for example, why their “ask” list included the last four digits of voters’ Social Security numbers and birth dates. It’s about safeguarding voters, including the ones who voted for Sununu.

The first meeting of the “Integrity Commission” is July 19 in Washington, D.C. Gardner needs to show some healthy curiosity, dare we say respectable skepticism, about a commission based on the false premise – fomented by Trump and his supporters – that we cannot trust one of the most sacred tenets of our democracy: our fair and honest elections.

Ask some tough questions, Bill. And get some answers.