Bud Fitch is a familiar face around New Hampshire’s Statehouse and its broader political circles. He’s served as deputy attorney general, as Gov. John Lynch’s so-called "stimulus czar" and as a top staffer for former Sen. Kelly Ayotte.
Since August, Fitch has been working under Secretary of State Bill Gardner in a newly created position as a dedicated attorney focusing on election law.
Gardner was able to tap Fitch for the role in part because the latest state budget increased his pool of funding for election administration by one-third — from $450,000 in the 2015-16 biennium to $600,000 in 2017-18.
A note attached to this year’s elections budget specified that “up to $150,000 of this amount may be used to fund an attorney position to administer election laws.” Fitch will earn an annual salary of about $81,000 in his new role, according to the Secretary of State’s office.
Separate from the expanded elections budget, the legislature also passed a law earlier this year expanding the Secretary of State’s authority to investigate voters' credentials after an election.
Before this change, the Secretary of State’s office compiled a list of unverified voters and passed them along to the attorney general’s office for further investigation, without taking any steps beyond sending an initial verification letter. (Officials with the attorney general’s office have previously testified that they were too short-staffed to fully vet all of the cases being sent their way in past years.)
Prior to Fitch’s arrival, the Secretary of State’s office already had several other staff attorneys who focus on issues like securities regulation but sometimes help out with election issues.
But generally, the task of managing legal issues related to elections fell largely on attorneys with the Department of Justice. In fact, Fitch used to be one of them.
“I was kind of the lead attorney in the AG’s office when the Help America Vote Act came out, and many changes were required in New Hampshire,” Fitch recalled. “I got to know Bill and his staff and enjoyed working with them, and frankly got to know a lot of the town clerks and moderators and supervisors who, in my mind, are the unsung heroes of our election process.”
Fitch’s new role will juggle everything from voter investigations to training local election officials on the nuances of New Hampshire’s ever-changing election laws.
Deputy Secretary of State Dave Scanlan said his hiring is reflective of the growing spotlight placed on New Hampshire’s election processes.
“We are a battleground state, there’s been a tremendous focus on elections over the last several bienniums to the point where legal expertise is becoming very important to the office,” Scanlan said. “Whenever controversial legislation passes, it’s more likely than not there’s litigation involved — that requires a pretty sharp legal mind or minds, to help get through all of that. The need for that type of expertise has risen dramatically over the last few years.”
Fitch, for his part, said the issues at the heart of today’s debates over election law aren’t really that different than the ones he was dealing with a decade ago in the attorney general’s office.
“Certainly from my point of view, the landscape is fundamentally unchanged,” Fitch said. “The legislature has gone through for decades, certainly from the time I’ve been involved, a process of trying to refine things, trying out different ways of ensuring public confidence in the election process.”
“It’s a balance,” he added. “Everything you do to try to deter voting fraud makes it harder to vote. Everything you do to make it easier to vote makes it easier to commit fraud. There’s a balance between those two, and I think the legislature works very hard to find the right balance.”