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New commission aims to increase confidence in N.H.’s elections in wake of conspiracy-fueled claims

A photo of Brad Cook, Dave Scanlan and Dick Swett, sitting behind a table with an American flag in the background.
Todd Bookman
/
NHPR
Co-chair Brad Cook, left, Sec. of State Dave Scanlan, center, and co-chair Richard Swett, right

The state’s top election official is creating a new commission aimed at bolstering voter confidence in elections, warning that a growing mistrust in the accuracy of voting results poses a threat to the institutions of government.

New Hampshire Secretary of State Dave Scanlan announced the Commission on Voter Confidence Tuesday, appointing attorney and New Hampshire Ballot Law Commission Chair Brad Cook, as well as former Ambassador to Denmark and Congressman Richard Swett to serve as co-chairs.

The commission will hold listening sessions across the state in the coming months, gathering input from citizens on how the state could improve transparency in the voting process. Members of the commission will also work to explain New Hampshire’s process for casting and counting votes, a largely decentralized process that involves thousands of local election officials and volunteers.

“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.”

New Hampshire’s state and local election officials, as well as Gov. Chris Sununu, have repeatedly said the state runs fair and accurate elections.

But conspiracy theories bellowed by President Donald Trump and some of his supporters about a rigged election have gained some level of support in New Hampshire. A closely watched audit in Windham fueled false claims that the state’s only approved ballot counting machines can’t be trusted, even though the audit traced the problem to how some ballots were folded prior to being counted, and proved that the election was not affected by hacked or manipulated software. There have also been concerns raised about Bedford’s handling of a batch of uncounted absentee ballots from the 2020 election.

Throughout this year’s legislative session, a small but vocal group of Republican activists have attended public hearings on proposed legislation to alter how the state conducts its elections. Most of those measures, including a full audit of the 2020 election, a proposed ban on the use of AccuVote ballot-counting machines, and incorporating magnetic ink and other new security measures into the process, have ultimately been voted down as unnecessary or impractical.

Scanlan and his co-chairs acknowledged that human errors have been made in New Hampshire’s elections, though there is no evidence of widespread fraud or the winner of a race not deserving their victory.

“That’s the purpose of elections: to make sure the will of the people is adopted. Not that it’s perfection,” Cook said.

Scanlan didn’t put a timetable on when the commission may conclude its work, but he stressed the urgency of state and local election officials stemming growing mistrust in the process. When voters lack faith, he warned, they may stop voting.

“If you start losing voter participation in elections, it starts becoming more difficult to govern, as well,” Scanlan said. “People lose confidence, not only in the election, but the institutions of their government.”

Other commission members include: Ken Eyring, Andrew Georgevits, Amanda Merrill, Jim Splaine, Douglass Teschner, and Olivia Zink.

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