CONTACT: Gilles Bissonnette, ACLU-NH Legal Director, 603-227-6678, firstname.lastname@example.org
CONCORD, NH — The American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire and the national ACLU filed a brief in federal court yesterday challenging New Hampshire’s practice of invalidating the absentee ballots of hundreds of voters, many of whom are disabled, without warning during each general election. At issue is a state law that allows election officials — who have no handwriting-analysis expertise — to reject an absentee ballot, without giving notice to the voter, if they think there is a signature mismatch in the voter’s paperwork.
“People should not be denied their fundamental right to vote because of penmanship, but that’s exactly what is regularly happening in New Hampshire,” said Gilles Bissonnette, legal director of the ACLU of New Hampshire.
Government officials never inform voters when their ballots are about to be thrown out. During the 2016, 2014, and 2012 elections, this law disenfranchised approximately 275, 145, and 350 voters, respectively. The three plaintiffs in this case are voters who lost their right to vote during the 2016 election under this law — Mary Saucedo, a 95-year-old blind woman from Manchester, Maureen Heard, a 20-year military veteran from Derry, and Dr. Thomas Fitzpatrick, a professor from New Hampton.
The challenged law is far more likely to disenfranchise people with disabilities. For example, Plaintiff Mary Saucedo is 95-years-old and legally blind. Therefore, she is allowed to obtain assistance in completing the absentee ballot process. For that, she relies on her husband of 52 years, Gus, an 87-year-old military veteran. In the 2016 election, he assisted her in filling out her ballot, sent it in, and assumed her vote had been counted. Unbeknownst to them, it hadn’t. Also disenfranchised during the 2016 election under this law were 97-year-old Kathryn Rakowski of New Hampton, an 89-year-old Korean War veteran, and at least 10 voters from nursing homes and rehabilitation centers throughout New Hampshire (including one from the New Hampshire Veterans Home in Tilton).
Courts have struck down similar laws as unconstitutional in Florida, California, and Illinois.
“The decision to throw out a ballot and deprive a citizen of their vote is essentially arbitrary. There are no transparent procedures for evaluating voter signatures,” said Julie Ebenstein, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “New Hampshire cannot create barriers that prevent individuals with disabilities from voting and having their votes counted.”
The lawsuit, Saucedo v. Gardner, cites violations of the federal Constitution and the Americans with Disabilities Act. A hearing is expected this summer.
More information on this case is at: https://www.aclu-nh.org/en/cases/saucedo-et-al-v-new-hampshire