The plot thickens in the continuing saga of the 2016 presidential campaign.
The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity – formed to investigate alleged voter fraud – requested in June that each state and the District of Columbia provide all publicly available voter information for the 2016 election – a request being fought by numerous states and the District. New Hampshire Secretary of State William Gardner – a member of the Commission himself – expressed his intent to turn over the data and faced a lawsuit by two state lawmakers and the ACLU of New Hampshire challenging the format in which he planned to submit the data. A resolution was reached in court Monday, but now neither side can agree on what to call it, and the fight over a nonentity continues.
The plaintiffs were allegedly concerned that Secretary of State Gardner intended to turn over the searchable database maintained by the state – a resource only available to the public at the state archives, where it can’t be downloaded or printed, and for sale to political parties, political committees, and candidates. New Hampshire state law requires that publicly available voter information be provided if requested in non-searchable PDF format – which is exactly how Mr. Gardner claimed he planned to provide it in his letter, released Monday:
In accordance with RSA 91-A, I must release electronic copies of marked voter checklists for each municipality that are preserved in my office in accordance with RSA 659:102. Those marked voter checklists include public information such as voters’ names, addresses, party affiliations, whether they voted, and whether they voted via absentee ballots. All of this information is public under RSA 659:102 and RSA 654:31-a and is required by law to be released. That is all the information I intend to release pursuant to the Presidential Commission’s request.
Assuming that both Mr. Gardner and the ACLU represented their intentions honestly, the entire court battle was over nothing of consequence. Even if he had intended to send the searchable database, the plaintiff’s argument still seems to be big, juicy nothing-burger. It’s unlikely that the database would be readily available for anyone who might come along with a desire to misuse public information, which either is or isn’t the issue – the attorney for the plaintiffs, Paul Twomey, seems a little unclear on this point. WMUR 9 reports:
“If you send it in the form of a searchable database, a digital database, it can go online and anybody can search through it, manipulate it, use it for any terms they want, use it to access people’s private information,” Twomey said.
“None of those things can happen from a picture of a piece of paper,” he said. “That’s a critical difference. That’s the whole reason we went to court.”
But according to New Hampshire Public Radio, Mr. Twomey said that “their concern was never a matter of whether any information could be released – but rather, to make sure Gardner was following the appropriate state laws.”
Additionally, if the Commission – or anyone else for that matter – wants a searchable database badly enough, it can create its own by manually entering the data. This would be a tremendous task, but not impossible – especially if the Commission is willing to pay a large enough group to split the workload.
“To enter those into a digital form, it took two or three employees of Manchester three months — just to do Manchester. It would be an enormous task for this committee to enter the entire state’s 300 or whatever it is municipalities,” Twomey told New Hampshire Public Radio. “It’s not going to happen. Is it conceivable it could happen? Sure, if you devoted enough resources to it. But that’s what the law allows for.”
So, the whole argument seems to have been for naught and what should have been an unnecessary resolution was reached Monday – the judge called it both a resolution and settlement, using the terms interchangeably – but both parties still seem unhappy. The ACLU likes the word settlement, as they argue that the state backed down from their position. However, the state never officially stated any intent to send the data in an inappropriate format, and so balked at that designation. They prefer dismissal, as they claim the plaintiffs withdrew their case and didn’t have sufficient grounds to sue in the first place.
Call it what you will, a resolution was reached. The requested information will be submitted – eventually – in the appropriate format as described by state law. Though the state and the ACLU continue to argue over who won the suit, it doesn’t appear to matter. The case apparently didn’t make any real difference in whether New Hampshire complies with the Commission’s request or how. It only seems to have delayed that compliance. The case didn’t really amount to anything, and it will be the New Hampshire tax payers who will ultimately have to foot the bill for nothing.