Ag drafted bill’s language barring release of voter database for civil litigation discovery requests raid 1 data recovery

Edwards’ comments came in an interview after six Republican members of a House-Senate committee of conference agreed on language the House had added earlier this month to Senate Bill 527, which began as a measure to broaden the eligibility for absentee voting if a weather emergency is anticipated for Election Day.

The move by the conference committee came as the attorney general’s office is asking the state Supreme Court to block a lower court’s order that the state’s entire electronic voter database be turned over to parties challenging a 2017 law, known as Senate Bill 3, which tightens voter registration requirements.

Top Republicans conferees said the move was not related to the case. They said it was instead a response to concerns voiced by Granite Staters when Secretary of State William Gardner last year prepared to send public information about voters to President Donald Trump’s now-defunct voter fraud commission.

That information was never sent and the commission eventually shut down.

The lone Democrat on the seven-member committee of conference, Senate Minority Leader Jeff Woodburn, said the move was clearly related to the Senate Bill 3 litigation and refused to sign off on the conference report. Woodburn will soon be replaced by a Republican, who will presumably sign off and move the bill to the Senate and House for final approval, and then to Gov. Chris Sununu.

The amendment states that the statewide voter database contains “highly confidential information” and that the Legislature believes that “this information must be protected and shall not be disclosed” except as specifically set out in state law, and “never in response to a subpoena or civil litigation discovery request.”

As WMUR reported earlier this month, Superior Court Judge Charles Temple granted a request by the plaintiff League of Women Voters and New Hampshire Democratic Party that the state make available to them all information in the state’s centralized voter registration database.

The database contains detailed information about voters, including dates of birth, driver’s license numbers, the last four digits of Social Security numbers, party affiliations, places of birth and naturalization information. It includes whether a voter registered 30 days or less prior to an election, whether the voter provided evidence of domicile when registering or afterward, and for voters who did not immediately provide proof of domicile, information they promised to provide on domicile affidavits.

The plaintiffs argued that they needed the entire database to support their case that Senate Bill 3 imposes an unconstitutional restriction on the right to vote and is an attempt to suppress voting by some people who are more likely to vote for Democrats. The plaintiffs said they want the data so their expert can “perform individual voter-level analyses that he can use to provide the court with information about who is burdened by Senate Bill 3, as well as the scope of those burdens.” The plaintiffs said the information would be encrypted and tightly protected.

But the attorney general’s office asked the state Supreme Court to block the lower court judge’s order by invoking “original jurisdiction.” The office argued that the database information is private under state law and that the Superior Court judge is requiring state officials to “commit a crime in order to release this information to the plaintiffs.”

At the committee of conference meeting, Sen. Regina Birdsell, R-Hampstead, chair of the Senate Election Law Committee, introduced a further change, accepted by all conferees with the exception of Woodburn, to have the ban on the release of the data take effect upon passage of the bill, rather than on Jan. 1, 2019, as the amendment previously stated.

“Since the issue of database privacy has come up, the secretary of state’s office has received written requests from voters to be taken off the voter rolls for fear of this type of disclosure,” said Rep. Barbara Griffin, R-Goffstown, who chairs the House Election Law Committee. “I think that on behalf of our citizens, we should be doing everything we can to make it clear that this information will be protected as soon as possible.”

But Woodburn said, “There is a current case going on and this would put a roadblock in terms of them being able to proceed. A lot of us want this privacy and that’s why we were against the Trump voter fraud commission and New Hampshire releasing the information to them. I understand that this would now put us in a position where we would be putting a thumb on the scale and trying to block the release of highly protected information to settle a court case.”

But Birdsell said that when the Trump commission was active, “There was a huge outcry from individuals who were concerned that even though they were only releasing the information that was public information, they didn’t want their information out there. And this certifies to them that we are trying to protect their confidential information.”