BERLIN — The Special Committee on Voter Confidence listened to a detailed presentation Tuesday on how complaints about elections and voting are handled by the N.H. Attorney General’s office.
N.H. Secretary of State David Scanlan created the bipartisan commission to increase public trust in the state’s election process and it has been holding informational sessions across the state and including one at Berlin City Hall.
The Attorney General’s office has a separate election law unit responsible for investigating and prosecuting violations of electric laws as well as helping to train election officials. The unit also oversees lobbying and campaign finance issues. It is staffed with two full-time attorneys and a full-time investigator.
Associate Attorney General Anne Edwards explained that over the past two years the unit has conducted 133 investigations stemming from complaints it has received about voting and election irregularities. She said 36 complaints alleged wrongful voting, 53 alleged illegal campaign activity, nine alleged election official misconduct, six alleged campaign finance violations, and 29 were related to general election review.
In addition to those formal investigations, she said the office has received thousands of inquiries over its hotline.
“We have a one 800 line that is really the lifeblood during elections and on election days because we hear from voters who are having challenges at the polls, or who have seen things that are uncomfortable with polls, but the hotline is open all the time,” Edwards said.
She said some of the investigations the office undertook, came in through the hotline.
Edwards and election unit head Miles Madison said part of their job is to prosecute election crimes that they find.
“Our investigations and our reviews confirm that there is no systematic wrongful voting in New Hampshire, but there is wrongful voting, it does happen. And when we find it, we prosecute those individuals who vote but weren't entitled to do so,” Edwards said.
She noted that back in 2002 the Attorney General’s office turned over information to the U.S. District Attorney about the Republican National Committee jamming the Democratic party lines and interfering with their get-out-the vote effort. Edwards said individuals served jail sentences in that case.
More typical are people who own property in two different communities in the state and think they can vote in both communities.
The pair went through the three cases that made the news in the last election — in Windham, Bedford, and Laconia Ward 6. In Windham there was a problem with a letter-folding machine, which made the absentee ballot count inaccurate — the Republican candidate gained 300 votes and the Democrat candidate lost 100 votes. But the new totals did not change the overall result.
In Bedford, an election official inadvertently moved a tray of absentee ballots and they were not counted. The moderator in Laconia’s Ward 6 was forced to resign after election officials found 179 uncounted ballots and unintentional double counting of other ballots.
All three communities will be required to have election monitors for the upcoming Sept. 13 primary election
Edwards said while they can’t give out legal advice over the hotline they can point people to statutes and guidance information.
A trio from the NH Campaign for Voting Rights said the group is surveying websites for towns and cities to see what they have for election and voting information on their sites. Liz Tentarelli said they have put together a draft template to present to towns that will include election dates, polling places and more detailed information to add to their webpage. It will also include a link to the Secretary of State’s election information. Tentarelli said she has an appointment with the Attorney General’s election unit to make sure the information is correct before the group gets it out to communities.
Three local people offered comments to the committee.
Long-time Gorham activist Paul Robitaille wished the committee good luck, saying it is important that the country not lose faith in its election process. He said he agreed with training for election workers but said if they make in mandatory, they will lose people. As a former selectman, he said it is already hard to get election workers. He said there is bullying going on and some protection for workers might be considered.
He also urged the state to move carefully on voter ID cards. He said when his mother could no longer drive, it took him six months to get her a non-driver’s ID. As the former head of Servicelink, he said he saw clients give up voting because their health made getting to a polling place or filling out an absentee application too difficult.
Ted Bosen told the committee he was impressed with the presentation by Edwards and Madison and recommended it be posted on the committee’s webpage. A resident of Berlin, Bosen said he came here after a 35-year legal career in Massachusetts where he frequently served as election law counsel to various organizations. Moving to New Hampshire, he praised the secretary of state’s office and Edwards for being very responsive to any questions he has had.
Bosen said he agreed with Robitaille that there are some who want to undermine the democratic process and cast doubt upon it. He said election workers are getting more fearful and the harassment works to undermine the system as well.
Henry Noel of Berlin reminded the committee that Berlin once had a large French-Canadian population that did not speak English. He said translation services should be provided in communities that have mixed populations.