By CATHERINE McLAUGHLIN, InDepthNH.org
The state Democratic Party’s legal counsel William Christie sent a letter to the Attorney General’s Office critical of its response to absentee ballot applications with incorrect mailing information sent to New Hampshire voters by the state Republican Party.
The letter obtained by InDepthNH.org calls both the investigation into the cause of the problem and the effort to mitigate its impact inadequate, something reflected in the ongoing confusion felt by some recipients of the mailer.
The NH GOP postcard was sent to an unknown number of registered Democrats, and deceased Democrats in the state, though the complete recipient list for the mailer remains unknown. The mailer also incorrectly listed Durham as the town of residence for town clerks across the state.
If any of the absentee ballot applications were submitted, they might be received by the Durham Town Clerk’s office. If the mistake had not been caught, some New Hampshire voters may have believed they submitted an absentee ballot request and never received their ballot.
NH GOP Chairman Stephen Stepanek said in a statement on Monday that the error was due to a mistake at the printer.
As counsel for the New Hampshire Democratic Party, Christie requested an investigation into the NH GOP mailer on Aug. 8 because it contained “incorrect information that could result in voter suppression and burden on the Durham Clerk’s Office.”
According to the letter, the Attorney General’s Office responded on Aug. 10 with a memorandum that stated in part: “We have spoken with representatives of the Republican State Committee and understand this was a printing error.”
Christie’s letter states that, “Simply speaking with representatives of the Republican State Committee is not an investigation.:
He specifically requested a more thorough investigation into “How and why Durham was selected as the sole addressee on the return post card and the scope of the burden imposed on the absentee voter registration process.”
The letter highlights particular concern for the burden on Durham election officials that the NH GOP mailer may cause, and the potential partisan implication of that burden.
“A primary reason I forwarded the mailer to you on a Saturday night was concern regarding its immediate and ongoing impact (intentional or accidental) on Durham officials,” Christie’s letter states.
“Durham has a significant number of voters who tend to vote for Democratic candidates. Durham has one of the highest numbers of registered voters and turnout in the state. Durham has also been the target of prior voter suppression efforts.”
According to the letter, the Attorney General’s memorandum explains that Durham officials will be responsible to notify the appropriate town or city clerks if they receive an absentee ballot request from a voter of another community.
Christie’s letter responds by stating that, “The State — not Durham officials— must take appropriate efforts to take responsibility for informing other town and city clerks when the postcards are received and not leave this administrative burden to Durham.”
The letter also says that because the Attorney General has represented the New Hampshire Republican State Committee in the past, there is a conflict of interest.
“At the very least, to avoid the appearance of a conflict, the Attorney General should not be involved in the investigation of this matter.”
If the conflict makes it difficult for the Attorney General’s Office to proceed with the investigation, the letter requests that it be referred Merrimack County Attorney.
The letter demands a full investigation into the mailer, and states that a 2002 suppression of the vote by NH GOP involving phone jamming democratic call centers in which “initial denials of responsibility were overcome through a government investigation.”
Suspicion has been echoed by some New Hampshire registered Democrats, who are still wondering why they, or their deceased loved ones who were also registered Democrats, received a postcard containing an absentee ballot application from their state’s Republican Party.
GOP Chairman Stepanek has not returned requests for comment about the recipients of the mailers.
Carol Currier of Concord received one of the NH GOP ballot applications addressed to her late mother, who was a registered Democrat and passed away in 2017. “It looked very official at first,” Currier said. When she saw the address of her town clerk listed with Durham as the town, she hesitated, reread the mailer, and grew suspicious.
Currier said she saw several posts on Facebook letting people know not to mail in the faulty application, and she joined a facebook group of people who had received it in the mail. One of Currier’s close friends also received a ballot application from the NH GOP for her husband, who died in the early 2000s.
Marilyn Kellogg of Kingston, another registered Democrat who received the GOP mailer, told InDepthNH.org that she has never received mass mail from NH GOP before, and the source of the mailer perplexed her. She has already submitted her absentee ballot request for the primary but said that if she had not noticed the faulty address, she would have tried to use the application for her ballot.
When asked about the incorrect mailer at a press conference on Tuesday, Gov. Chris Sununu said, “I really don’t know much about it. That’s a party issue, frankly.”
He said that mailers being sent to deceased voters could be attributable to voter lists that need to be updated, and said, “This is a party issue, whether it’s the RNC or the state party or a bad address. I don’t really know anything beyond that.”
In the past few months Sununu has repeatedly expressed confidence in the New Hampshire’s preparedness for fall elections, which are expected to have unprecedented levels of absentee voting.
“We have a great tradition and a reliable system with a lot of integrity,” Sununu said at a press conference on July 28. “We have gotten our elections right 100% of the time for 100 years…It is a seamless system.”