By NANCY WEST, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Secretary of State David Scanlan said he has not received a letter from the chairman of the Republican party about any rule change to the contrary so 320,000 undeclared voters will not be kept from voting in the Republican presidential primary.
“I have received no such letter that would require me to make any change,” Scanlan said. “The presidential primary will be conducted in the same manner it has been conducted for decades.
“The party chair is required to write a letter to the Secretary of State to inform him or her of any change in party rules that would determine who can participate in a party primary and that letter has to be delivered before the filing period for office opens up,” Scanlan said.
There has been no such letter and the deadline was Oct. 11 so nothing will be changed in the Republican presidential primary that will be scheduled sometime in January, Scanlan said.
Scanlan said he received the resolution GOP activist Karen Testerman wrote that was adopted by the New Hampshire Republican Party in January to block the 320,000 undeclared voters from voting in Republican primaries.
But in order to make such a change, Scanlan says the law requires the chairman of the Republican Party to send him a letter informing him of the rule or bylaw change. And Chris Ager, chairman of the state Republican Party, hasn’t done so.
Ager didn’t respond to a request for comment Thursday.
The law is RSA 659:14-2 in Special Provisions for State and Presidential Primary Elections.
Testerman said she disagrees with Scanlan’s interpretation of the law.
“It says in order to permit undeclared voters to vote in a party primary, (Scanlan) needs a letter of permission to do so,” Testerman said. The letter needs to come from the chairman of the political party, and that has never happened, Testerman said.
“They have been conducting primary elections wrong all these years,” Testerman said.
The law states: “The secretary of state shall include on the voter instruction cards required by RSA658:28 whether a party rule has been adopted which permits a person who is registered as an undeclared voter to vote in the party’s primary. The party chairman shall notify the secretary of state in writing prior to the filing period for state offices whether the party has adopted such a rule….”
Testerman of Franklin is the chairman of the Merrimack County Republican Committee and ran unsuccessfully against Gov. Chris Sununu in the last two Republican primaries.
Testerman compared the Republican party to a family and said when family decisions need to be made, you don’t ask the neighbors to weigh in.
New Hampshire’s next primary will decide who the party wants to represent them in the presidential election.
“Why do we want somebody from outside making that decision,” Testerman said.
Undeclared voters in New Hampshire include 40 percent of the registered voters – the largest block – with Democrats and Republicans split at about 30 percent each.
Testerman, whose husband is Rep. David Testerman, R-Franklin, said she heard Democrats were encouraging undeclared voters to register as Republicans so they could vote against former President Donald Trump in the primary.
The grass-roots group Citizens for Belknap raised alarm about the resolution in a press release Wednesday night.
It said the state GOP was invoking an arcane rule giving parties the ability to tell the state who can vote in their party’s primary.
“In an attempt to bypass the legislature, the new resolution found a loophole in New Hampshire’s statute (659:14), which appears to permit a party to close its primary without legislation,” the release said.
“If the resolution document is accurate, independent voters in Belknap County and around the state will be outraged by this effort to deny New Hampshire citizens a cherished right which they have held for decades,” said Al Posnack, co-chair of Citizens for Belknap.
As it stands, undeclared voters may choose either a Republican or Democratic ballot to vote in a primary election. That registers the voter with that party unless the voter later changes their affiliation back to undeclared or a different party and each change request must be voted on by the local Supervisors of Checklist.
The next primary after the presidential primary will be the one for all state, county and federal offices in September 2024.
If Scanlan received a letter from the Republican party chair saying there was a rule change restricting undeclared voters from voting in the Republican primary, he said he would follow the law.
“That would mean undeclared voters would not be able to participate in the primary of that party,” Scanlan said.
Putting it simply, political parties are responsible for conducting their own business and making changes to the rules.
“I don’t have a say. The only thing that matters to me is if I received a letter of a rule change within the party, then I would act accordingly. I have not received a letter from the Republican party chair,” Scanlan said.