Handwritten notes on N.H. voter checklists stall release to Trump fraud panel

  • A computer at the research room of the state's Division of Archives and Records Management building photographed in July shows photocopies of records from past voter checklists. The state's centralized voter registration database isn't allowed to be photographed. NICK REID

Monitor staff
Published: 8/29/2017 10:32:52 AM

New Hampshire election checklists being compiled for President Donald Trump’s electoral commission won’t be on their way to Washington anytime soon because they have to be cleaned of some voters’ personal information, including the identity of some potential victims of abuse.

Review of the lists of voters compiled by more than 200 different town and city supervisors of the checklist and clerks found 51 polling place checklists from 42 communities “contained handwritten information that was either clearly confidential information or information which is not required for the election day checklist,” according to a memo released Tuesday from Secretary of State William Gardner and Attorney General Gordon MacDonald. “This information includes, among other things, dates of birth, driver’s license numbers, and telephone numbers.”

That finding came from a search that took place after it was discovered that a half-dozen names of voters were written on a public checklist even though the voter was under a court-issued protection order, often because of domestic or sexual abuse. Under state law, such a person can request to vote non-publicly, to shield their location from a prospective abuser.

Finding and removing these names, as well as other handwritten notes such as phone numbers and birth dates, has halted the process of sending the list to the federal commission. The checklists have also been temporarily removed from public access via a computer terminal in the State Archives building in Concord.

After the checklists are cleared, they will be sent to the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity as well as other groups that have requested the information under the right-to-know law.

The commission has been controversial from the moment it was announced, with critics saying it was an excuse to create more restrictive voting laws. New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner is a member of the commission, and said he joined because he wants to see why voters are losing confidence in the electoral system.

More than 980,000 names are on state voter rolls.

Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan, who oversees elections, told WMUR on Tuesday that checklists will be examined back to at least 2006 to see if other non-public names are publicly available.

Under state law, people protected by court restraining orders due to domestic violence are placed on a non-public voter checklist to keep their whereabouts hidden from abusers.

“This protection is vital to the safety of victims and their children, both those living inside and outside of emergency domestic violence shelters,” wrote Amanda Grady Sexton, director of the public affairs for the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, in a statement released Tuesday.

Jessica Eskeland, public policy specialist for the coalition, said the group had not been aware before Tuesday’s announcement that some names were being included on public voting lists.

“We call for a full audit of all checklists and information intended for submission to the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity to ensure that victims of crime who are guaranteed confidentiality under New Hampshire law are afforded the rights they are entitled to,” Sexton wrote. “Additionally, we call for a town-by-town manual review of all hand-marked checklists to ensure that victim privacy has adequately been maintained.”

State law RSA 173-B and 633:3-1 allow people who are under a court protective order to have their names and addresses removed from public voter checklists. They can also vote by absentee ballot if they choose, meaning they don’t have to show up at the polling place on election day.

State law says public checklists should “be marked at the end with a notation of the number of voters whose names are maintained on the nonpublic list.”

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)

David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog granitegeek.org, as well as moderator of the monthly Science Cafe Concord events. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics he became a newspaperman, working in Virginia and Tennessee before spending 28 years at the Nashua Telegraph . He joined the Monitor in 2015.

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