Voters take their time reading over the ballots at Belmont High School. (Karen Bobotas file photo/for the Laconia Daily Sun)
Some say voter fraud pervasive, but there is little evidence
By MICHAEL KITCH and ADAM DRAPCHO, LACONIA DAILY SUN
After upholding the integrity of New Hampshire elections throughout his nearly three decades as Secretary of State, Bill Gardner told the Manchester Union-Leader that fraud was "real and pervasive" and he had seen it with his own eyes.
The problem, Gardner explained, is that unlike many states, New Hampshire has no residency requirement for voting, but instead requires that a person be domiciled in the state in order to vote. For voting purposes, domicile is defined as that one place where "a person, more than any other place, has established a physical presence and manifests an intent to maintain a single continuous presence for domestic, social and civil purposes relevant to participating in democratic self-government."
Together with the law entitling people to register and vote on Election Day, Gardner said the loose definition of domicile would enable a person from another state to appear at a polling station, register and vote, then leave the state. "We have drive-by voting," Gardner said. However, it is virtually impossible to detect or quantify the number of fraudulent ballots possibly cast by drive-by voters.
Gardner, who has repeatedly urged the Legislature to tighten the law, made his remarks amid litigation over a statute intended to close the loophole, which ended with the New Hampshire Supreme Court unanimously ruling the statute violated the Constitution.
While the electoral law may be open to abuse, there is little hard evidence of widespread voter fraud. The American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire reviewed the investigations of alleged voter fraud undertaken by the Secretary of State between 2000 and 2015, when 4,454,752 votes were cast in statewide elections, and found only a handful of cases of residents voting twice. In addition, there have been a few high profile cases of voter fraud. in 2014, a man voted in both Salem and Windham and this spring a former member of the House of Representatives voted in a district where he no longer lived then sought to bribe a local official to expunge his transgression.
Laconia purges voter list with each election
"Our job, the job of every election official is to help people exercise their right to vote," said David Stamps, who has worked the polls in the city for the past 20 years, half of them as the moderator in Ward 3.
In Laconia, City Clerk Mary Reynolds oversees the election in the six wards. Stamps said that there are five elected officials in each ward — the moderator, ward clerk and three selectmen — and a number of appointed officials, all of whom are sworn officials.
The Supervisor of the Checklist, who he said "has the last word on voter registration," maintains the roster of registered voters, which is "purged" or updated with each election and at other times as prescribed by law. The supervisors of the checklist will meet with the city clerk this weekend when anyone who passed away since Sept. 9 will be removed from the list. On Election Day, the city clerk will provide the supervisors of the checklist with the names of those who died since Saturday, Oct. 29.
The moderator, Stamps said, is in charge of the polling station, and the ward clerk certifies the results. The selectmen are official "observers," who may serve as ballot clerks as well as perform other tasks at the direction of the moderator.
All voting districts use paper ballots, which some smaller towns count by hand, but most districts count with AccuVote machines. The machines are secured and sealed between elections. Once the ballots are printed and delivered by the New Hampshire Secretary of State, the machines are tested. Stamps explained that first a blank tape is passed through the machine followed by a batch of 50 ballots, which are inserted right-side up and upside down, then from the top and the bottom. If all four tapes bear the same result, the tape is signed and forwarded to the Secretary of State and the machines are secured and sealed.
Reynolds stressed that each time the secured bags in which the machines are kept are opened, it is resealed, logged and a record retained.
On Election Day, the machines keep a running tally throughout the day. Election officials begin opening and counting absentee ballots two hours after the polls open, so long as it was posted within 48 hours of the election. The votes are counted by election officials in the presence of voters at the polling station. Absentee ballots are kept sealed until Election Day, when they are at last opened and counted.
Stamps said that when the polls close, a tape is run. What he called "the tape tally" represents a preliminary result that is certified and sent to the city clerk. That does not include uncounted absentee and write-in votes. Once these votes, and any others the not read by the machine, are counted, the ward clerk certifies the final count. Stamps said that if the machines fill to capacity, the ballots are removed, placed in a locked box and the key held by a police officer.
Once the final count is complete, the ballots are secured and taken to the city clerk at City Hall, who places them in a locked room until they are collected by New Hampshire State Police officer, who delivers them to the Secretary of State in Concord.
'No chance of it here'
In Sandwich, Janet Brown has been a supervisor of the checklist for "at least" 45 years. In that capacity, she and two other supervisors meet regularly to update the list of registered voters. They process new registrations and remove names when a resident dies or moves out of town.
This is the box in Gilford that the voting machine sits on and collects the paper ballots that voters use. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)
When a resident dies, the state's vital records administration notifies the town clerk, who will pass that notice to the supervisors. If someone is suspected of residing somewhere other than where their registration states, the supervisors will send a letter to the registered address, and if it there's no response within 30 days, the voter's name will be struck from the list.
No more than twice in her four-decade-plus career has she seen someone attempt to register who wasn't a legitimate Sandwich voter. She hasn't seen any issues on voting day, other than people who bristle at the requirement that they present their identification at the polls.
What's it like for her to hear the current rhetoric, alleging widespread voter fraud?
"I don't like it. In all these years, I've never lived through an election that has been as nasty as this one," she said. "I don't know about the rest of the state, or big cities, but there's absolutely no chance of it here."
When it comes to Election Day, Sandwich is about as traditional as it gets. Voters are given a paper ballot that they fill out behind a curtain, then they hand the folded ballot to the moderator, and watch as he slips the ballot into a locked wooden box.
After the polls close, the box is unlocked and a team of people counts each ballot by hand, under the supervision of the moderator. Each ballot is counted by three people, and if there's a question about the voter's intent, the moderator weighs in. Sandwich will likely have more than 1,100 registered voters by Election Day, and town officials expect at least 90 percent of those people to fill out a ballot.
It will take at least three hours to count all of those ballots by hand, but Jennifer Martel, deputy town clerk/tax collector in Sandwich, said she had utmost confidence in the hand-counting process.
In Gilford, where there's likely to be 6,300 registered voters by Election Day, hand-counting would be impractical. But, according to Gilford Town Clerk Denise Gonyer, the ballot machines are worthy of voter confidence.
Gonyer, who started working in the town clerk's office as deputy clerk, said, "I've been in this office for 29 years, we've had machines this whole time. To my knowledge, these machines have been 100 percent accurate."
As of Thursday, Gilford's two voting machines were locked in secure bags and stored behind a locked door. State law forbids Gonyer, or anyone else, from removing the machines until they are tested prior to the election. To test them, she will fill out 25 test ballots, and then run each ballot through each machine right-side-up forward, then backward; then upside-down forward, then backward, so that each ballot is run through each machine four times. The machine's report is then compared with a hand-count of the same ballots. The testing takes about a half-day, and takes place under the moderator's watch.
Gonyer noted that the machines are not connected, via wi-fi or hard cable, to any outside networks, making electronic tampering of the machines highly unlikely. After the ballots are read the machine, they are stored in a locked box that the machine sits atop. When the polls close, election officials will open the box and review each ballot, in case the voter wrote-in a candidate.
She said voters should be confident in the integrity of the state's elections.
"I only know what I know. What I know is I'm very confident in the New Hampshire system," she said. "I think, whenever you cast your vote for anything, there's some amount of fraud. You'll never get away from it. Personally, I'm very proud of our process. I think it works very well."
In Sandwich, Martel had similar comments. The ability for voters to register at the polls does give her some pause, she said, because officials don't have the ability to check those voters against other databases until after the votes are counted. And, in states where the laws regulating voting aren't as extensive as New Hampshire's, she suspected there was "potential" for fraud.
"New Hampshire's very careful with how we handle that," she said, "but same-day voter registration has been challenging."
"Every vote counts," said Martel. "In races like this, every vote counts."
"Get out and vote," said Gonyer
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Residence vs. domicile has been at issue when it comes to who may vote
By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
The New Hampshire Constitution, Part I, Article 11, prescribes that "Every person shall be considered an inhabitant for the purposes of voting in the town, ward, or unincorporated place where he has his domicile."
The debate about who is entitled to vote that has roiled the State House for more than a decade hinges on the difference between the words "domicile" and "residence," a distinction that bears most directly on college students. Lawmakers have adopted bills. Governors have vetoed them. And the New Hampshire Supreme Court has struck down one of them.
The Constitution does not define "domicile," but the Legislature has defined it as "that one place where a person, more than any other place, has established a physical presence and manifests an intent to maintain a single, continuous presence for domestic, social, and civil purposes relevant to participating in democratic self-government." The Legislature has distinguished between "residence" and "domicile" by defining "residence as "as a person's place of abode or domicile," which is further defined as "that place designated by a person as his principal place of physical residence for the indefinite future to the exclusion of all others."
In other words, a "resident" has expressed an intent to remain in the state for an indefinite future while someone domiciled here has not. Ultimately the distinction between "residence" and "domicile" — and with it the right to vote — rests on a state of mind.
In 2012, the Legislature, over the veto of Gov. John Lynch, passed legislation requiring those registering to vote to sign an affidavit acknowledging that they were subject to the residency laws, including those requiring them to to register their motor vehicle as well as apply for a New Hampshire driver's license within 60 of becoming a resident.
Attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire challenged the law on behalf of three students at the University of New Hampshire and a volunteer with the League of Women Voters. However, they argued that the law would disenfranchise not only college students but also an executive planning to retire to Florida after living in New Hampshire his whole life, military personnel temporarily stationed in the state, residents training at New Hampshire hospitals and others with plans to leave the state but nowhere else to vote.
The Superior Court ruled that the law violated the Constitution and that ruling was was upheld by the Supreme Court, which unanimously held that because the law "could cause an otherwise qualified voter not to register to vote ... the burden it imposes upon the fundamental right to vote is unreasonable."
Following the court's decision, the Legislature adopted similar legislation that expanded the definition of domicile, which included a number of criteria that a person must meet to qualify to vote. Gov. Maggie Hassan vetoed the bill and her veto was upheld. This year two bills, along with a proposal to amend the Constitution, were introduced, to address the issue, all of which failed.
Under the existing law college students and others currently domiciled in New Hampshire but without intentions to remain in the state for the indefinite future may vote where they reside, but nowhere else.
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How to report suspected voter fraud
By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
Fears of widespread voter fraud have been raised about this election. If you suspect something shady is happening, you should bring your concerns to the attention of the moderator overseeing the operation of the polling station.
Political parties and the Attorney General may appoint persons to challenge the eligibility of voters. The moderator will position challengers to ensure that they can see and hear voters as they present themselves to vote. At the same time, any other person is entitled to challenge a voter as provided by state law.
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Photo ID - Here's what to bring
When voters go to the polls they will be met by a person stationed at the entrance to each of the polling places in the six wards of the city, who will ask them if they are carrying a photo ID. Those with an appropriate photo ID will be directed to vote as usual.
One of the following types of ID will be required: a driver's license, either current or expired, issued by any state; an ID card issued by the New Hampshire Division of Motor Vehicles; a United States Armed Services ID card; a United States passport, either current or expired; a valid photo ID issued by the federal government or by a state, county or municipal government; a valid student ID card; or other photo ID deemed legitimate by the supervisors of the checklist, the moderator or the ward clerk.
In addition, a supervisor of the checklist, the moderator or the ward clerk familiar with a voter, who is without one of the above forms of photo ID may personally verify his or her identity.
Those without a photo ID will be escorted to a separate table where they will be asked to complete a "challenged voter affidavit" and be photographed. The affidavit is a sworn statement that reads: "I, _______, do solemnly swear (or affirm) under penalties of voter fraud, that I am the identical person whom I represent myself to be, that I am a duly qualified voter of this town (or ward), and have a legal domicile therein."
Once the affidavit is completed the voter will be permitted to cast his or her ballot.
All those who complete a "challenged voter affidavit" in order to vote in the general election will receive a letter from the New Hampshire Secretary of State requesting confirmation that they voted in the election. They will be given 90 days from the date of the postmark to respond in writing. If they do not respond within the prescribed 90 days, the New Hampshire Attorney General will conduct an investigation to determine if fraudulent votes were cast.
Voters without an approved photo ID may obtain one without charge by completing a voucher signed by the city clerk, town clerk or Secretary of State and presenting it to any office of the New Hampshire Division of Motor Vehicles that issues identification. This photo ID is valid only for the purpose of voting.
For further information, contact City Clerk Mary Reynolds at 527-1265 or visit her office at City Hall.
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Just who are the people in the Electoral College?
By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
The President and Vice President are formally elected by the Electoral College, which consists of 538 electors from the 50 states and District of Columbia. Each state is allotted an elector for each of its members of the House of Representatives and its two Senators while the District of Columbia is allotted three electors. The ticket receiving a majority of 270 votes in the Electoral College becomes president and vice president.
New Hampshire has four Electors, one for each of its two congressional districts and its two senators. The two political parties each choose a slate of four electors. Voters vote for a slate of electors pledged to a particular presidential ticket. The electors of the party whose candidate wins the most popular votes become the electors for the state.
Although electors are pledged to vote for the candidate who wins the most votes in the state, New Hampshire is is one of 21 states without a law that punishes so-called "faithless electors," or those who fail to honor their pledge. Since 1796, 179 "faithless electors" have cast votes in 22 elections, but only in 1836, when 23 Virginia electors abstained in the vote for vice president, was the outcome of the vote in the electoral college affected. The Democratic vice presidential candidate failed to win a majority, but was subsequently elected by the Senate.
The Electoral College never meets. Instead, the electors in each state meet at the state capitol after the second Wednesday in December and cast their separate ballots for president and vice president.
This year in New Hampshire, the Republican Electors are Ellen Suprunowicz Stepanek of Amherst, Jane Johnson of Swanzey, Fred Doucette of Salem and Lou Gargiulo of Hampton Falls.
The Democratic Electors are Bev Hollingworth of Hampton, Terri Norelli of Portsmouth, Dudley Dudley of Durham and Carol Shea-Porter of Rochester. All four women were the first Democrats of their gender to hold high positions in state government: Hollingworth as president of the Senate, Norelli as Speaker of the House, Dudley Dudley as executive councilor and Shea-Porter as congresswoman.