New Hampshire election chief gives update on efforts to boost voter confidence

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — The New Hampshire secretary of state’s office soon will have a new staffer dedicated to voter education just as legislation making significant changes to the same-day registration process could be taking effect.

Secretary of State David Scanlan described the new position Monday to former members of a bipartisan committee he created in 2023 to assess voter confidence in the state’s elections. In a final report 16 months ago, the committee concluded that New Hampshire elections are well-run, the results are accurate and there is no evidence of widespread fraud. And it made more than a dozen recommendations, most of which have been enacted, Scanlan said.

The new staffer, who previously worked for a school district, will tackle two of the recommendations: expanding voter education efforts and ramping up recruitment of poll workers, Scanlan said. That will include reaching out to schools, veteran groups and others, he said.

“We’ve done very little direct education efforts with the public,” he said. “We want to go to the next level.”

Meanwhile, lawmakers are close to passing legislation that will need to be explained to voters and election workers alike. A pair of similar bills would require those seeking to register to vote at the polls to show documents verifying their identity, domicile, age and U.S. citizenship.

Under current law, those who don’t bring the proper documents can sign an affidavit promising to provide them within seven days. The proposed legislation would do away with the affidavit process; one version would create a hotline system by which poll workers could try to verify the needed information via state databases.

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Republican supporters say the change is necessary to instill confidence in the election process, while Democrats say it will harm qualified voters who show up without knowing they had to bring all the documents.

Scanlan said he had not weighed in in the legislation until recently because it likely will be challenged in court if it passes. But he told committee members that if it does take effect, “it could be done, but not without challenges.”

“This does play into the voter confidence issue. There are two important parts of an election. One is it should be easy for voters who are qualified to exercise their right to vote. And New Hampshire’s done a really good job of that,” he said. “The other side is that any voter has the right to know who’s participating in the elections and whether those individuals are qualified. That’s what these bills are attempting to do, and it is a legitimate public policy concern.”

Beyond voter education and election official recruitment, the committee’s other recommendations included changes to election procedures, such as purchasing new ballot counting devices, expanding post-election audits and improving the absentee ballot process. They also recommended expanding training for election workers, increasing the public’s ability to observe the election process and publicizing the process for citizen complaints.

Scanlan described progress on all those fronts. For example, a handful of towns tested new ballot counting machines this year, and the state plans to split the cost of purchasing new machines with them and others interested in updating their machines. Legislation to expand post-election audits is headed to the governor, and the secretary of state’s office has increased the number of types of training sessions for local election officials. Several thousand attended online training sessions ahead of the presidential primary in January, he said, and nearly 900 attended in-person sessions all over the state.

“It is the local election officials that run elections in New Hampshire as opposed to poll workers that are hired by county government or states and are assigned to polling places in other states. And it is that intimate knowledge of the voters and how the voting process takes place in that town that gives me a lot of confidence in how elections are run,” he said. “We really need that local participation.”

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