THIS BLOG POST IS ONE OF SEVERAL GUEST EDITORIALS THAT WILL BE PUBLISHED DURING SUNSHINE WEEK (March 11 – 17), HIGHLIGHTING THE NEED FOR MORE GOVERNMENT TRANSPARENCY.
By Deborah Sumner
“[E]very voter’s vote is entitled to be counted once. It must be correctly counted and reported.” Gray v. Sanders, 372 U.S. 368, 380 (U.S. 1963)
NH Law requires that our votes are counted in public (RSA 659:63) so there are many eyes to catch and correct mistakes. But, with 87.5% of all NH ballots now potentially “counted” by AccuVote computer, we can’t know if election officials are fulfilling their constitutional duties to us UNLESS we can publicly verify the results are true. Known risk factors include changing votes, counting them as fractions and losing them. (Technology for Diebold optical scan is same as touchscreen).
After two failed attempts to repeal the ballot exemption from RSA 91-A (passed in 2003) and two pro se litigant attempts in NH courts to access my town’s ballots to make sure our votes are counted as voters intend them, I am considering going to federal court. Since I dislike the court option so much, why would I even consider it?
If everything was fine with our elections, as the “official” government story claims, I could file a public records request, review a sampling of ballots and confirm it (as citizens in a number of other states can do). As a former reporter, I know there is often a different story that contradicts the first and requires public action to fix. This is one of them.
My Story Begins
Before the November 2010 election, Jaffrey citizens asked our moderator to do a hand count check of one of two federal races, chosen at random after polls closed.
Both were open seats and fit the definition of a high stakes, competitive race most vulnerable to tampering. A 2009 state advisory report advised random computer checks and some moderators had been doing them.
The Jaffrey moderator said yes and confirmed with the Attorney General he could; the Deputy Secretary of State convinced him to change his mind.
NH Const. Part I, art. 8 IMMEDIATELY came to mind. “Of course we should know if the vote count is accurate for our town. Both the NH Constitution and election laws REQUIRE it!” I sputtered.
Louder alarm bells sounded when I went to court and found the Town Clerk had reportedly destroyed the November 2010 ballots, in violation of federal law and before a Cheshire Superior Court judge could decide if I could review them.
At that point, my hair was on fire. Yet the court, state and local officials didn’t see ANY problem. Case dismissed. There was no state or local investigation to confirm when ballots were destroyed or if anyone had advised the clerk to destroy them. I documented probable election fraud. Jaffrey Chronology
Even though law required local officials to ensure accurate vote counts, local officials claimed they couldn’t check computer accuracy because the Secretary of State didn’t want them to.
In 2016, the NH Supreme Court denied my request to make sure the 2.5% of AccuVote-counted ballots invalidated as “over votes” in November 2012 were not the result of fraud (at least three known possibilities). Hiding evidence of fraud and/or significant error in our elections is a “political” decision of the legislature, it decided, to my absolute amazement. The court cited an unenforced law as justification for denying my request, saying “we note that New Hampshire law enables public oversight of the vote counting process… RSA 669:63 requires that vote counting be conducted in public, so that the public may observe the counting process as it occurs.”
My story was diverging further from the “official” government’s version. (Since November 2016 there has been more media attention and the public is more aware that election officials across the country haven’t been telling us the truth or protecting our votes for a long time.) Myth of the Hacker-Proof Voting Machine
Attempts to restore the moderator’s legal duty to conduct public vote counts, repeal the ballot exemption and eliminate MOST over voted ballots failed in the Legislature in 2018. NH courts offer no recourse to review ballots for ANY reason. And yet, we have the constitutional right and responsibility to make sure the foundation of our system of self-government is secure, our votes are counted and reported accurately and results are legitimate.
So, with all the reasons not to go to federal court (time, money I don’t have, aggravation, the possibility of setting a bad legal precedent), I’m considering it. Request of Jaffrey Select Board
Without election transparency and public accountability, there can be no trust in our elections or our government. I feel helpless, yet responsible to all of us, my ancestors and future generations to TRY and move the two different NH election stories closer to each other. I can’t know if a federal court will help.
Deborah Sumner is a member of Right to Know New Hampshire and a resident of Jaffrey. She can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org