Gardner releases voter info intended for presidential commission

  • New Hampshire Secretary of State William Gardner looks over some of the voter sheets in the Executive Council Chambers at the State House Wednesday, Novermber 5, 2014. GEOFF FORESTER

Associated Press
Published: 3/30/2018 6:19:18 PM

Nearly three months after President Donald Trump disbanded his controversial voter fraud commission, the New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner has released thousands of pages of voting data it was prepared to turn over.

The data reveals the voter checklist – including names, addresses, and party affiliations of every registered voter – for every town and city in New Hampshire at the time of the 2016 general election. The lists also show who voted in the general election held on Nov. 8, 2016.

Before the release of all this town-level information, members of the public could access voter checklists from each individual municipality in the state, or through a right to know request directed to the State Archives, which keeps electronic copies of checklists from past elections at its offices on South Fruit Street.

Trump created the commission last May to investigate the 2016 presidential election, after alleging repeatedly and without evidence that voter fraud cost him the popular vote.

The White House blamed the decision to end the panel in January on more than a dozen states that refused to comply with the commission’s demand for reams of personal voter data, including names, party affiliations, partial Social Security numbers and history of voting going back to 2006.

Gardner, a member of the commission, had planned to comply by sending millions of scanned, unsearchable images of voter checklists but never did so because the commission ended before his office finished redacting handwritten entries that included personal information about some voters, including those with domestic violence protective orders.

All along he insisted New Hampshire would only send publicly available information to the commission. His office released the data Friday to the Associated Press and other media outlets that requested it under the state’s right-to-know law.

The data consists of digital copies of the paper checklists maintained by towns and cities showing voter names, addresses, party affiliations and whether they voted. For the 2016 general election, there are 311 separate files ranging in length from one page for the town of Millsfield and its 21 voters to 1,336 pages from Bedford, which listed 16,733 registered voters. The voter checklists for Manchester, which are divided into 12 files, one for each ward, list nearly 60,000 voters across more than 5,000 pages.

The data is in non-searchable, PDF form, though the AP was able to convert several sample pages into spreadsheets using websites that offer data conversion services.

But because the scanned images include handwritten notations – names crossed out to indicate that someone voted, for example – the results included numerous spelling and formatting errors that would have made it all but impossible for the commission to import the information into a database.

The law allows the state to sell an electronic database to political parties, but not to members of the public. As a result, Gardner prepared to release the publicly available PDFs to the commission, as opposed to the data sold in spreadsheet form.

An Associated Press tally showed that 15 states and the District of Columbia refused to turn over the voter data, many citing privacy concerns, and a handful of others had yet to decide by the time Trump ended the commission.

Some of the states that pushed back against the commission’s request for voter data were Republican-leaning, including North Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee and Wyoming.

Gardner, the nation’s longest-serving secretary of state, defended his role on the commission by saying he saw it as a chance to explore why many Americans have lost confidence in the election process. But he faced criticism from fellow Democrats, including former gubernatorial candidate Colin Van Ostern, who recently launched a campaign to unseat Gardner.

Editor’s note: This article was clarified to make clear that members of the public could access voter checklists at individual municipalities in the state, or through a right to know request directed to the State Archives, which keeps electronic copies of checklists from past elections at its offices on South Fruit Street. This information was incorrect and added by the Monitor to the Associated Press story. 

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