Last week, Dave Scanlan made his first major public move since taking over as New Hampshire secretary of state from his legendary predecessor, Bill Gardner. At a news conference Tuesday, Scanlan announced the creation of a Commission on Voter Confidence.
That he felt such a move necessary reflects rather poorly on the state of our elections, and our civic debate. This is not, as it might appear at first blush, an image-burnishing move designed to appease those who are forever insisting New Hampshire’s elections are somehow at risk or open to fraud simply because college students are allowed to register and vote even if they only live here nine months of the year.
While Scanlan, like Gardner, has done his part to prop up attempts at making it harder for those students, all while insisting Granite State elections are completely secure and a model for the nation, this panel is being convened to deal with a new civic phenomenon: the ultra-vocal micro minority — those politically motivated mini-mobs who show up at meetings to shout and intimidate officials. Thus far, in New Hampshire, they’ve been quite effective, convincing school board members to quit; GOP lawmakers to take up the anti-vax cause and shutting down an Executive Council meeting at which members were to vote on accepting federal vaccine aid.
In our increasingly dystopian world, political conspiracies seem to take hold of too many imaginations, regardless of how outlandish or easily disproven they are. This legislative session, according to a report by N.H. Public Radio, “a small but vocal group of Republican activists have attended public hearings on proposed legislation to alter how the state conducts its elections.”
The various elections-related bills — on everything from mandating all ballots in the state be counted only by hand to (of course) demanding the state completely recount its 2020 general election results (spoiler alert: Biden still won) — have mostly fallen in committee or before the House or Senate. Which is right, as they were mainly ill-advised and wasteful.
But, as is often the case with conspiracies, there’s just enough “there” there to keep the fires burning: ballots in a pocket of a voting machine in Laconia that went uncounted from several 2020 elections; a major disparity in the results of Windham voting for state representative — which turned out to be largely because a machine folded some ballots in a way that they were not counted. It doesn’t take much.
So Scanlan is acting preemptively to show voters they can have faith in the state’s elections.
“Our challenge is to make the process more transparent, help people understand it, so that there is no mystery,” Scanlan said. “If we can do that, it is much harder to create a situation where people can claim conspiracies.”
To head the commission, Scanlan chose two well-connected and respected Granite Staters. One is attorney and N.H. Ballot Law Commission Chair Brad Cook, a Republican. His co-chair is former Ambassador to Denmark and 2nd District Congressman Richard Swett, a Democrat.
Both are strong and reasonable voices in Granite State politics. In fact, this isn’t a first for Cook, who was tabbed by Gardner in 2020 to chair a special committee on how best to use pandemic relief funds to ensure safe and accessible voting during the pandemic.
The commission will hold meetings across the state in the coming months, gathering input from citizens on how the state could improve transparency in the voting process. And it will do its best to explain how our elections work, acknowledging that when people understand a process, they’re less skeptical of it.
Hopefully, that goal won’t be impeded by anther of Scanlan’s appointees to the panel. Ken Eyring, a right-wing activist, has been a vocal supporter of former President Trump’s baseless claims that Trump won the 2020 election, but was denied a second term by “rampant election fraud.” Scanlan’s point that all sides of the issue ought to be represented on the commission is a good one. But Eyring’s subsequent denials that he “ever” claimed there was election fraud, given clear proof to the contrary, aren’t a heartening start.
Our view of New Hampshire elections is that there isn’t, nor has there ever been, any issue with integrity or voter fraud. The idea that the state’s system is vulnerable has been cooked up by those wishing to place extra burdens on voters they think support “the other side.” Any perception that our elections are suspect or in need of tightening is due to the constant repetition of such claims over the past decade by political opportunists. As Scanlan can, and will, tell anyone who asks, the simplicity and integrity of our elections is apparent in the results through the years.
Saying that, however, it’s clear the incessant chirping about fraud or vulnerabilities, however groundless, have taken hold with a small minority of Granite Staters. To the degree they can be reassured, it’s worth seeing where the commission goes.