NH Right to Know Articles of Interest

Here is a list of links for news articles published and other documents found on the internet related to Right to Know in New Hampshire for January, February, & March 2018.

Legislation:

Lawmakers approve bills to strengthen Right-to-Know laws

N.H. bill looks to make public-sector union talks public record

Keene opposes bill on access to electronic records under Right to Know law

Lawmakers want Coakley Landfill Group subject to Right-to-Know law

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House passes SB 555 which creates an alternate RTK grievance resolution process

SB 555 has been passed by the House of Representatives.  As there is a Fiscal Note on this bill, the bill now goes to the committee on Finance.

RTKNH supports this bill.  Here are some reasons why.

SB 555 will establish an Ombudsman to resolve Right to Know grievances and reduce the burden and costs for:

  • Citizens
  • Courts
  • Public agencies & bodies

 

 

 

 

 

House to vote on SB 555 which creates an alternate RTK grievance resolution process

SB 555 will be voted on by the House of Representatives Thursday 4/12/2018.  This bill creates a low cost, speedy, credible, and impartial Right to Know (RSA 91-A) grievance resolution process for all parties.

RTKNH supports this bill.  Here are some reasons why.

SB 555 will establish an Ombudsman to resolve Right to Know grievances and reduce the burden and costs for:

  • Citizens
  • Courts
  • Public agencies & bodies

The 13 member study commission unanimously agreed that New Hampshire needs an Ombudsman.

The Senate agreed that New Hampshire needs an Ombudsman and voted to pass SB 555.

The House Judiciary Committee voted 14-2 in favor of this bill.

SB 555 is before the House for a vote this Thursday.

Please contact your State Representative and ask them to support SB 555.

 

 

SB 555 which creates an alternate RTK grievance resolution process; before the House Judiciary Committee

SB 555 will be before the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday 3/27/2018 @ 10am LOB Room 208.  This bill which creates a low cost, speedy, credible, and impartial Right to Know (RSA 91-A) grievance resolution process for all parties.

RTKNH supports this bill.  Here are some reasons why.

SB 555 will establish an Ombudsman to resolve Right to Know grievances and reduce the burden and costs for:

  • Citizens
  • Courts
  • Public agencies & bodies

The 13 member study commission unanimously agreed that New Hampshire needs an Ombudsman.

The Senate agreed that New Hampshire needs an Ombudsman and voted to pass SB 555.

Now SB 555 is before the House Judiciary Committee for a vote.

 

Please contact your Legislator and ask them to support SB 555.

 

 

SB 555 Will Establish an Alternative Grievance Resolution Process for Right to Know Complaints

By: David Saad

New Hampshire’s Right to Know Law is meant to provide transparency and accountability in our government, but citizens often run into roadblocks attempting to get state and local agencies to live up to the letter and spirit of the law.

Many times, documents are withheld from disclosure, often without any detailed explanation. Public bodies and agencies also tend to err on the side of nondisclosure in matters which involve privacy or confidentiality of others. Citizens frequently feel documents are inappropriately withheld and there’s little recourse outside of expensive and intimidating litigation.

The Center for Public Integrity in 2015 evaluated the freedom of information laws of all 50 states as part of its State Integrity Investigation. In public access to information, New Hampshire earned an F grade and ranked 49 out of all 50 states.

Worse, when it comes to the appeals process, the center gave New Hampshire a score of zero. The Right to Know Law, also known as RSA 91-A, requires all appeals to be made using the judicial system and there is a high bar for the recovery of attorney fees and other costs.

This all comes as little surprise to right-to-know advocates in the state. In New Hampshire, the burden to resolve public record and open meeting disputes is nearly entirely on the citizen. Fortunately, there may be help on its way.

Last year, House Bill 178 established a 13-member commission to study ways to resolve public record and open meeting complaints as well as to reduce the cost of appeals for citizens, courts, municipalities and state agencies. After two months of meetings, the commission — whose members include a variety of different stakeholders, myself one of them — recommended establishing an independent ombudsman to be overseen by a new Citizens’ Right-to-Know Appeals Commission.

Senate Bill 555, implements this recommendation. Senate Bill 555 was passed by the Senate and is now before the House.

An ombudsman will create a new and faster path to resolve Right to Know Law disputes. Citizens will have the option to either petition the superior court or file a signed, written complaint with a new ombudsman’s office. The ombudsman will process the complaint, acquire and review documents, and conduct interviews if necessary. He or she will determine if there has been a violation of RSA 91-A and issue a ruling within 30 days.

The ombudsman can order a remedy for a violation just as a court now can. Remedies would include providing the public access to meetings and compelling the disclosure of records. Either party may appeal the ombudsman’s ruling to superior court. Rulings not appealed may be registered in court as judgements to be enforced through the court.

If established, an ombudsman will help to:

• Achieve a resolution, in many cases, without involving the courts. This will result in a reduction of court-related costs.

• Further level the playing field so all citizens can pursue their rights under the Right to Know Law without hiring an attorney.

• Reduce costs incurred by citizens, resulting in more opportunity to resolve Right to Know Law grievances.

• Streamline the resolution process greatly and reduce the time to achieve an outcome.

While hiring an ombudsman and establishing a new office is an added expense, there will be considerable savings to offset the costs to taxpayers. By avoiding litigation, municipalities and state agencies will often be spared court costs and attorney fees. In the recently settled case Porter v. Town of Sandwich, for example, the town paid more than $200,000 in attorney fees to the plaintiff, in addition paying the legal fees it incurred itself.  Recently several State Representatives were forced to file a lawsuit in Court against the Coakley Landfill Group because that group failed to provide documents requested under the Right-to-Know Law.  Again, tax dollars will be spent on legal fees to resolve this complaint while citizens continue to be left without the transparency in government which is their right.

In addition, the Citizens’ Right-to-Know Appeals Commission will:

  • Establish policies and procedures for the Appeals process
  • Improve right-to-know educational materials to increase compliance
  • Report annually to the legislature with a summary of complaints filed and recommendations for future changes to the law

To maintain trust between the people and their government, the establishment of an ombudsman and citizen commission will be indispensable. They will help protect the right of citizens to access government records and to receive advance notice of open meetings, among many other rights afforded by RSA 91-A.

Senate Bill 555 has bipartisan support but representatives need to hear from you. Please contact your New Hampshire Representatives and ask them to make resolving right-to-know disputes faster, cheaper and easier for all citizens.

David Saad is president of Right to Know NH.

Exempting Ballots From RSA-91A Means Jaffrey Resident Must Go to Federal Court to Review November 2016 Ballots

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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).

https://citp.princeton.edu/research/voting/

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 righttoknownh@gmail.com