GOP Lawmaker: Providing Voter Info To Trump Commission Would Violate N.H. Law

Jul 7, 2017

Credit Allegra Boverman / NHPR

Two New Hampshire lawmakers from different sides of the aisle are asking a judge to block the Secretary of State from handing over voter information to President Trump’s election integrity commission.

The New Hampshire ACLU filed the lawsuit in Hillsborough County Superior Court Thursday. A hearing has been scheduled for Tuesday, July 11 in Nashua.

One of the plaintiffs is Democratic State Senator Betty Lasky.

The other is Republican Neal Kurk. He’s a 16-term state representative from Weare, and is known for being an advocate of privacy rights.

He joined NHPR’s Morning Edition to talk about the issue.

Secretary of State Bill Gardner has defended his decision to provide this information, saying these checklists are publicly available and that states should have nothing to hide. Why is he wrong?

The law does not allow the public checklist or any of this information to be sent to the federal government. Indeed, it can’t be sent out of state, with a certain exception for the crosscheck program, which states are using to make sure voters are registered in one state only. It’s not a question of trying to hide something; it’s a question of trying to make sure that information collected by the state of New Hampshire for one purpose is only use for that purpose, and only within the state of New Hampshire, unless there are exceptions.

I’ve worked with Secretary of State Gardner for years to make sure that these voter checklists were used only for that purpose and were not sent to provide a federal database, and that’s what this is all about. Secretary of State Gardner and I disagree about the interpretation of certain language in one of the statutes that deal with this subject, and that’s what the lawsuit is all about.

Gardner is a member of Trump’s election commission. Do you have any concerns about his involvement?

No, not at all. I’m very concerned about voter fraud and I want to make sure that when we have an election only those who are eligible to vote in fact actually do vote. But that’s a separate issue from the issue of whether or not a database created about New Hampshire people, by New Hampshire people, for New Hampshire people should be co-opted by the federal government. Unless we change the statute, the legislature has set up a policy that the answer to that question is no.  

File photo: Neal Kurk talking with NHPR
Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR

Governor Chris Sununu supports providing this information, and state Republican Party Chair Jeanie Forrester is quoted in the Union Leader as saying Gardner appears within his authority to do this, and that she trusted him to make this call. Are you concerned about a lack of pushback from leaders in your party on this issue?

I’m not sure what you mean by a lack of pushback. I think the leaders of the Republican Party have made it very clear that they want to help the Trump commission in its investigation of voter fraud, as do I, but I want to make sure New Hampshire law is followed. We’re very concerned about privacy in this state and we have protections in statute. Until those statutes are changed, we must follow the law. And that’s what this lawsuit is all about.

This is voter information the state sells to political parties – why allow that?

That’s a good question, but we’ve done that because political parties legitimately need this information to inform voters, to persuade voters. It’s part of the voting process, hence their access to this. But please note that these political parties may not use this information for “commercial purposes,” which is defined in statute. And if this information in its current form were sent to the D.C. commission, that commission has made it very clear that this information will become public. That is to say it will be available on the internet, to the Russians, to commercial interests, to anybody who wants to use it. So a political party would not be able to send this information, even if they got it legitimately to persuade New Hampshire voters, as is part of the statute. They would not be able to send it to Washington because they would not be able to ensure that it would not be used for commercial purposes.

Would you feel differently about complying with the commission’s request if there was a guarantee the information wouldn’t be made public?

Yes.

If the state is ultimately allowed to release this information, what are your biggest concerns in terms of what could be done with it?

Information is used by data miners and all sorts of other people for good and bad purposes and the problem is we as individuals lost control over this information. Some of us don’t care, and some of us do care about what happens to this information and who knows all of these things about us. The law is designed to make sure that people who are concerned about this have their information protected.

New Hampshire lawmakers last year did approve joining the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program, which allows states to compare checklists in an effort to prevent fraud. That’s run by Kris Kobach, who now chairs Trump's election commission. Could that law apply in this case?

The partisan view of this matter is divisive. I'm focusing on something different. I'm focusing on the state statute that says this information is private and is not to be shared with others, except as provided in statute.

I don’t believe so. First of all, I was involved in the writing of that law and we made it very clear that the information we send to the crosscheck group can only be used to crosscheck voter registration between the states. And it must be destroyed I believe within a few weeks after the crosscheck is accomplished. So Secretary of State Kobach would not have access to that information for any other purpose. Moreover, it’s very clear in our statute and in the crosscheck statute that the information can be used for no other purpose. So even if he had access to that information through his involvement in crosscheck, he would be violating the law if he took that information and gave it to the Trump commission.

What are you hearing from constituents on this issue?

I’m getting a large number of emails very much in support of this position, but I think many of them are coming from the Democratic side of the aisle, and not too many from the Republican side of the aisle. It’s very difficult to tell of course because people appropriately don’t identify themselves as Republicans or Democrats. There is a political component to this. The Democrats see this as voter suppression, and the Republicans see this as protection against voter fraud, and so the partisan view of this matter is divisive. I’m focusing on something different. I’m focusing on the state statute that says this information is private and is not to be shared with others, except as provided in statute. And the purpose of the lawsuit is to deal with the disagreement between Secretary of State Gardner and others about what the meaning of the statute is.