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CONCORD – Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire reinstated its lawsuit seeking to bar the New Hampshire Secretary of State William Gardner from illegally disclosing statewide information concerning New Hampshire voters to the recently-created Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity (the “Commission”). The case was originally filed on July 6, 2017. It was then stayed after the Commission withdrew its request on July 10, 2017 pending the outcome of a different lawsuit in the District of Columbia.
On July 26, 2017, the Commission renewed its request for information following a decision in the District of Columbia lawsuit. Today—in light of the Commission’s renewed request—Secretary Gardner once again agreed to produce to the Commission statewide information concerning over 984,000 registered voters’ names, domicile and mailing addresses, and party affiliation, if any. This response ignores New Hampshire laws that place strict and binding requirements on how the State can produce voter information, if at all. (See RSA 654:31). A hearing has been scheduled for Monday, August 7 at 1:30 p.m.
“The Secretary of State has no statutory authority to release a copy of the statewide public checklist to anyone other than a political party, political committee, or candidate for New Hampshire office,” stated Senator Bette Lasky (D-NH), a plaintiff in the case.
“The legislature carefully designed strict restrictions on the sharing of voter information—and limited to political entities—for good reason: to protect voter privacy,” stated Representative Neal Kurk (R-NH), another plaintiff in the lawsuit. Representative Kurk was involved in the crafting of the relevant statutes under RSA 654:31, which limit the prospect of mass dissemination of this statewide voter information in order to ensure that it is only used for political purposes, and not for commercial gain. (RSA 654:31(VI) explicitly prohibits voter information from being used for commercial purposes.)
RSA 654:31(II)-(III) only allows requesters to: (i) view the statewide public checklist on the statewide centralized voter registration database at the state records and archives center during normal business hours where requesters are prohibited from printing, duplicating, transmitting, or altering the data and (ii) obtain hard copies of the public checklist from local municipalities on a town-by-town/ward-by-ward basis at a fee of at least $25 per municipality or ward.
“The Secretary of State is not entitled to grant the Commission special, unwritten exemptions that circumvent New Hampshire law,” stated Gilles Bissonnette, Legal Director of the ACLU of NH. “He must apply the law to the Commission no differently than he would apply the law to a regular member of the public seeking this information. The Secretary of State has no authority to ignore the law.”
Although the Commission has now indicated in its July 26, 2017 letter that any personally identifiable information it receives will not be publicly released (in contrast to its June 28, 2017 statement that all information would be publicly available), this does nothing to change the fact that the release would violate New Hampshire law. These statutes’ protections exist regardless of any promises a requester may make concerning how it will handle voter information. “The New Hampshire legislature provided no mechanism for RSA 654:31(II)-(III)’s protections to be cast aside if a non-political requester makes various privacy promises; there still would be no statutory authority to produce statewide information to this requester,” said Bissonnette. “A requester saying ‘trust me’ does not permit the Secretary of State to disclose information to an unauthorized recipient.”
The lawsuit, Lasky v. Gardner, seeks to bar the Secretary of State from disclosing this information without full compliance with New Hampshire law. It was filed in Hillsborough Superior Court South.