N.H. House Hearing on HB1520 on Access to Ballots on January 23 at 10:00

House Bill 1520 to provide access to ballots under the Right-to-Know Law has been introduced in the N.H. House and assigned to the House Election Law Committee. This bill is sponsored by Rep. Ellen Read (D), Rep. Timothy Horrigan (D), Rep. James McConnell (R), Rep. Sherry Frost (D), Rep. Martin Jack (D), Rep. Ivy Vann (D), Sen. Martha Fuller Clark (D), Rep. Timothy Smith (D), and Rep. Charlotte DiLorenzo (D). RTKNH supports this bill.

HB1520 is scheduled for a hearing by the House Election Law Committee on Tuesday, January 23, 2018 at 10:00 a.m. in room 308 of the Legislative Office Building in Concord, N.H. The public is encouraged to attend and testify in favor of this bill.

Among other provisions, this bill modifies provisions to RSA 659:95, II, RSA 660:16, II, and RSA 669:33, II to remove language that prohibits access to ballots as well as add new sections to RSA 660 to define the procedure for public access to ballots. Here is the revision to RSA 659:95, II:

II. [Ballots, including cast, canceled, and uncast ballots and] Successfully challenged and rejected absentee ballots still contained in their envelopes, prepared or preserved in accordance with the election laws shall be exempt from the provisions of RSA 91-A. This exemption shall apply to [any ballots or] absentee voter affidavits prepared for or used in any election conducted by the state or any political subdivision, including federal elections.

Here is the revision to RSA 660:16, II:

II. [Ballots, including cast, canceled, and uncast ballots and] Successfully challenged absentee ballots still contained in their envelopes, prepared or preserved in accordance with the election laws shall be exempt from the provisions of RSA 91-A. This exemption shall apply to [any ballots or] absentee voter affidavit envelopes prepared for or used in any election conducted by the state or any political subdivision, including federal elections.

Here is the revision to RSA 669:33, II:

II. [Ballots, including cast, canceled, and uncast ballots and] Successfully challenged absentee ballots still contained in their envelopes, prepared or preserved in accordance with the election laws shall be exempt from the provisions of RSA 91-A. This exemption shall apply to [any ballots or] absentee voter affidavit envelopes prepared for or used in any election conducted by the state or any political subdivision, including federal elections.

Here are the new provisions added to RSA 660:

Public Review of Ballots

660:32 Statement of Purpose. The state of New Hampshire recognizes that the fundamental right to vote includes the right for voters to have their votes counted and reported accurately, as provided in Part I, Articles 1, 2, 7, 8, and 11 and Part II, Articles 5, 32, 41, and 84 of the state constitution. Therefore, the public may view cast ballots after the recount period is over to ensure accuracy of the vote count and evaluate the performance of election officials. Review of ballots shall be in a manner that is least restrictive to the public and that is efficient and least cumbersome to the ballot custodian or designee.

660:33 Custody of Ballot. Town and city clerks shall retain custody of the ballots until the retention period has ended, 22 months for all federal offices, 60 days for all other offices. In the case where custody is transferred for a recount the secretary of state shall remain the custodian until the retention period has ended.

660:34 Application and Timing of Access.

I. Review of ballots shall only be allowed after the recount period for that election has ended. Application for ballot review shall be made in writing to the custodian of the ballots, stating specific times of availability or unavailability, if applicable.

II. The ballots shall be made available for inspection in a timely manner. However, responding to applications for inspection shall not take priority over the previously scheduled work activities of the town or city clerks.

III. The custodian shall schedule the appointment within 5 business days to accommodate those wishing to review ballots and the individual supervising the review. Citizens requesting the review may recruit counters if needed.

IV. Additional appointments may be necessary to complete the review or answer new questions that may arise.

V. Towns and cities may request reimbursement of additional expenses from the secretary of state from the election fund established under RSA 5:6-d.

660:35 Supervision of Ballot Review and Box Contents.

I. It is the duty of the custodian or designee to ensure the integrity of the ballots and contents of the sealed boxes.

II. The custodian shall remove the seal from boxes in the presence of those requesting the review and those who will supervise.

III. Reviewers shall witness the identification of seals removed and new seals applied after review.

IV. Depending on the number of boxes involved and time allowed for initial review, the supervisor and reviewer may agree whether one or more boxes shall be opened at one time.

V. No person shall in any manner, nor for any reason, make any mark upon either the face or reverse side of any ballots during the counting process. All notes shall be done in pencil upon separate pieces of paper.

VI. Ballots shall not be traceable to a voter. If there is only one absentee ballot cast in a location, that ballot may be excluded from the review to maintain the confidentiality of the secret ballot. If the reviewer or supervisor witnesses any identifying marks on a ballot that would allow it to be traced to a voter, the witness shall report the violation to the moderator, who shall report it to the attorney general.

VII. Reasonable administrative regulations designed to ensure the integrity of the ballots may be established by the clerks in conjunction with the secretary of state. Such regulations, if required, shall be limited to requiring the individual seeking access to provide identification and sign his or her name, and the keeping of bags, briefcases, or other items off the table where ballots are placed.

VIII. Supervisors at the local level may include members of the board of recount, other election officials, a designated town employee, or a law enforcement official.

660:36 Right To Copy. The right to public access shall include compliance with the provisions of RSA 91-A:4, I.

660:37 Denial of Access. In extraordinary circumstances, the custodian of the ballots, after consultation with the attorney general and the secretary of state may deny access to ballots to certain individuals for good cause and give the reasons in writing. Good cause shall be limited to previous conviction for theft or fraud, or prior destruction of, defacement of, or tampering with public records. Denial of access may be appealed to the superior court, with RSA 91:A-8 remedies available if the denial was not based on good cause.

660:38 Fraud or Error. The custodian of the ballots shall request that any person reviewing ballots under this subdivision report to the state political parties and to the moderator any evidence of fraud or error in any vote count of one percent or more. The moderator shall forward any such report to the secretary of state, the attorney general, and, if applicable, local law enforcement authorities.

The full text of the bill is available here.

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