New Hampshire offers unique solution to election skepticism with committee on voter confidence 

  • Co-chairs Brad Cook (front left) Dick Swett (front right) speak speak to the members at the Special Committee on Voter Confidence held at the State Archives last week. GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff

  • Andrew Georgevits serves on the statewide Special Committee on Voter Confidence held at the State Archives building last week. Georgevits served as deputy state director for Trump in 2016 and he is running for State Rep in 2022. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 11/7/2022 7:28:21 PM
Modified: 11/7/2022 7:27:53 PM

Each election cycle has its own challenges, Secretary of State David Scanlan says. 

Four years ago, it was concern over foreign actors hacking United States voting systems. 

Two years ago, it was conversations about expanding access to mail-in ballots and safely holding an election in the middle of a pandemic. 

This year, there is no doubt the challenge for the newly appointed Secretary of State is public scrutiny of the very systems he oversees. More people are interested in how ballots are counted. Stoked by false rhetoric of a stolen presidential election, voters and candidates have grown more skeptical.    

Assuring the public that New Hampshire has a fair, accurate and reliable election system has been a focus of Scanlan’s first year as Secretary of State. Since May, a new commission on voter confidence has traversed the state to hold listening sessions for public opinion on election security.

It is a new experiment to restore trust in a state that prides itself on democratic participation and civic engagement. 

A new midterm message 

The narrative of election skepticism is at the forefront of these midterm elections. These off-cycle contests typically stand to test the leading party’s power. 

But in 2022, the midterms serve as a referendum on claims of election denial from elected officials, a Capitol insurrection and confidence in voting systems. 

Ahead of the elections, Bright Line Watch, a group of political scientists has surveyed the public alongside political experts to evaluate the status of United States democracy. 

Leading the Bright Line Watch initiative, is Brendan Nyhan, a professor of government at Dartmouth College – who joined the voter commission at the Keene Public Library in September to explain causes of a decline in election confidence. 

Bright Line Watch’s most recent October survey found that 41% to 55% of U.S. House members and 35% to 41% of U.S. Senate Republicans are election deniers, aggregating the analysis of three major media outlets. 

This national trend, is one of great concern for Nyhan. 

“It's clearly the case that saying the 2020 election was stolen is a way to signal your bona fides to the base when you run,” said Nyhan. 

Karoline Leavitt, who could be the youngest person elected to Congress if she wins New Hampshire’s first congressional district race, user her allegiance to Trump as a selling point to voters. Leavitt, who worked in the White House press office under Donald Trump, has repeatedly touted that he won the 2020 election on the campaign trail. 

Don Bolduc, the Republican nominee running against Maggie Hassan for U.S. Senate, had for months similarly insisted without evidence that Trump won. Days after winning his party’s position, Bolduc offered a new narrative of the 2020 election and agreed Joe Biden was the rightful winner. 

With election skeptics on the ballot across the country, New Hampshire is providing a unique attempt at a solution to this negative rhetoric, said Nyhan. 

“This is a problem that requires a restoration of the bipartisan consensus around the legitimacy of our election system,” he said. 

The committee, in which Scanlan appointed members across the political spectrum, provides an attempt to complete just that. 

A New Solution to Voter Confidence 

At its helm is bipartisan collaboration. The commission is co-chaired by former Democratic U.S. representative Richard Swett, who also served as ambassador to Denmark, and Bradford Cook, who once eyed a Republican run for governor.

Other members include Andrew Georgevits, the chairman of the Concord Republican City Committee; Amanda Merrill, a board member for the N.H. Land and Community Heritage Investment Program; Jim Splaine, a prior member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives and Senate; Douglass Teschner, a former Peace Corps director in Ukraine, where he also served as an election observer; Olivia Zink, executive director of Open Democracy, a nonprofit in Concord; and Ken Eyring, the co-founder of the Government Integrity Project and Windham, New Hampshire resident.

Eyring raised eyebrows when first appointed to the commission given his staunch critique of how the election was conducted in his hometown in 2020. The small town was at the forefront of election integrity after a recount was needed for ballots that were mistakenly read by voting machines due to creases. 

Although a state forensic audit and recount certified the town’s official results, Eyring was at the forefront of voter fraud claims with online blog posts suggesting so. No evidence of widespread fraud was found in Windham or elsewhere in the state. 

Yet Scanlan defended his choice, according to the New Hampshire Bulletin, stating that Eyring’s participation in the commission allows them to truly understand the issue of voter confidence. 

From Scanlan’s perspective, in order for people to trust how voting works in the state, they need to understand what happens after ballots are cast. 

“We should be as transparent as possible being election officials,” he said.  “We should even take time to help educate our voters on what actually is occurring in the polling place on the day of the election.”

While Scanlan and his office work to promote this message, Swett and Cook are tasked with listening to voters on their main concerns about voting systems. 

“We have been afforded the opportunity to record testimony from citizens across the state and to look into election processes that make New Hampshire one of the most reliable one of the most dependable election states in the country,” said Swett.

The commission has hosted listening sessions and offered information about the election processes across the state this summer and fall. After the election, they’ll release a report on their findings. 

“It's a novel effort and New Hampshire is a small enough state that something like that might reach people in a more direct way than would be possible in larger states,” said Nyhan. 

While the committee has helped facilitate public conversations of election processes and trust, the nature of the state and structure of its elections also lends a hand. 

New Hampshire boasts itself on high voter turnout. Elections are also decentralized, meaning that local jurisdictions facilitate the voting process. It is neighbors helping neighbors at polling locations. 

“The people that are actually running the election in a voters polling place, are their neighbors,” said Scanlan. “There's a good chance that each voter knows at least one of a person in the polling place working on election day.”

This makes voting a personal, intimate process in a community.  

“The clear consensus of what we've heard from people testifying whenever they think about elections across the country, including from the heads of the Democratic Party and counsel to the Republican Party, that they believe New Hampshire elections are secure, they are accurate. People should have confidence in them and their neighbors who conduct them,” said Cook. 

The effort from state leaders to listen and learn from concerns in previous elections could not only serve as a model for future New Hampshire contests, but as a roadmap for other states to restore trust in voting systems, according to Nyhan. 

“To the extent that New Hampshire is successful in rebuilding bipartisan trust, that could be a really encouraging example for the rest of the country,” he said. 

Or it could have concerning repercussions. 

“Conversely, we could be the canary in the coal mine,” he said. “A state that prides itself on having informed, well-informed voters succumbing to the kind of denialism, I think it would be very worrisome.”

At its core, though, the committee is asking voters how the state and country can rebuild in the aftermath of failed trust in these systems that are core to democracy. 

“This democracy is in great need of improvement and the trust that the people it serves with its government. And that's well I hope this committee can help make a positive contribution toward that level of confidence,” said Swett. “That level of trust has to be redone, reinstated and rebuilt, or else we will continue to experience the problems that  we've had.” 


MICHAELA TOWFIGHI

Michaela Towfighi is a Report for America corps member covering the Two New Hampshires for the Monitor. She graduated from Duke University with a degree in public policy and journalism and media studies in 2022. At Duke she covered education, COVID-19, the 2020 election and helped edit stories about the Durham County Courthouse for The 9th Street Journal and the triangle area's alt-weekly Indy Week. Her story about a family grappling with a delayed trial for a fatal car accident in Concord won first place in Duke’s Melcher Family Award for Excellence in Journalism. Towfighi is an American expat who calls London, England, home despite being born in Boston.



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