Video: Activist, candidate get into heated exchange at Ward 8 polls in Concord

Monitor staff
Published: 9/11/2018 12:39:46 PM

The scene at the Ward 8 polls in Concord got tense Tuesday when police were called after a state cannabis activist got into a confrontation with the ward’s Republican candidate for state representative.

Rick Naya, the executive director of New Hampshire NORML, was filming candidates standing outside the Bektash Shrine Center in Concord and asking about their position on legalizing marijuana. A conversation between Naya and Dennis Soucy, who is running for the District 17 House seat, began to escalate, and at one point Soucy went inside to get the moderator.

“I told you I’m a fighting veteran and I’ll do anything for America, anything for my country,” Soucy said on the anniversary of 9/11. “I’ll shoot terrorists if you want me to. I will.”

“He has no right to be out here harassing people,” Soucy then said to moderator James Lawrence.

“I have every single right in the world to do this,” Naya replied.

Lawrence then told candidates not to respond to any questions.

Naya said he thought the moderator’s comment was illegal, saying moderators could “influence elections” and that it threatened his First Amendment rights.

Later, Lawrence said people have a right to ask questions of candidates, but they “can’t afford to have a situation in front of the polling place.”

The situation escalated further when Concord police responded to a call about 9 a.m. from Ward 8 clerk Aorlyn Sargent. Lt. Cori Casey said police received a report of a “belligerent man” outside yelling at candidates. Casey said Naya was cooperative with officers and left shortly after he voted.

“I was surprised that someone at a polling station would call them on someone who is questioning candidates,” Casey said.

Soucy said Naya was in his face and that the confrontation had lasted about 10 to 15 minutes. He said he respects free speech but, “we just don’t need someone making a big stink out here.”

Naya said he was asked to give up his cellphone by poll workers.

Associate Attorney General Ann Edwards, who was working the attorney general’s election hotline Tuesday, said polling officials have no authority to take citizen’s cellphones, regardless of whether they were filming inside a polling location or not. People are allowed to film in public places, including outside and before the guardrails that separate voting booths and registration areas, she said.

“Of course you can have your phone while voting,” Edwards said. “You can take a photo of your ballot if you chose to.”

What happened outside Ward 8 is a little more complicated; Edwards said she couldn’t comment on the exact situation, but explained that moderators have the authority to deal with situations that intimidate or keep voters away from the polling location.

At the same time, polling locations “are a public spot, and if someone wanted to videotape a candidate, they can,” she said. “Candidates don’t have to answer questions any more than voters don’t have to interact with candidates.”

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