Secretary of state’s pick for voter confidence commission draws criticism

By: - May 4, 2022 5:50 am

Voting rights advocates have criticized the selection of Ken Eyring (right) to serve on the voter confidence commission. (Amanda Gokee | New Hampshire Bulletin)

When Secretary of State David Scanlan announced a new commission on voter confidence last week, the goal was to combat the declining trust in elections he’s seen over the past 10 years, spurred by misinformation and partisan politics. 

But the commission includes a controversial pick: Ken Eyring, who has drawn criticism from voting rights groups for promoting the false narrative of rampant voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election.

In the wake of the 2020 presidential election, Eyring authored blog articles with headlines including misinformation, like “Rampant Election Fraud Exposed!!!” published on the far-right and libertarian website Granite Grok. No evidence of widespread voter fraud has been found either in New Hampshire or nationally.

The commission is tasked with holding a series of public listening sessions throughout the state, with the goal of improving trust in elections. It met for the first time on Monday. But Scanlan’s decision to include Eyring has raised questions as to whether that choice undermines the committee’s mission.

“You want to reserve judgment before anything starts, but it is jarring to see on a commission that the secretary of state formed, a commission to fight back against conspiracy theories that undermine our trust in elections, … one of the lead perpetrators of those big lie conspiracies,” said Lucas Meyer, chairman of 603 Forward, a progressive advocacy organization.

Community organizer Louise Spencer also spoke to the potential harm of Scanlan’s choice: “We have concerns that whenever the big lie is given credence that that in and of itself greatly undermines confidence in our elections.”

“And that view being represented on the commission, I do have great concerns that it only feeds that conspiracy sort of thinking,” she said.

In an interview, Eyring denied having made claims of voter fraud. “I’ve never used that word ‘fraud,’ so please don’t say that I have in your article,” he said.

When asked about multiple blog posts he had written containing misinformation on widespread fraud in elections, Eyring said he would have to go back and look at what he wrote.

And while Eyring said he has not claimed there’s voter fraud in New Hampshire, he did point to “shenanigans” in other states.  

“I think that it’s unfortunate that when people in New Hampshire see what took place in other states that they believe that’s going on here. I don’t believe that’s going on here, but I believe it’s going on in other places,” he said. 

Eyring gained interest in election integrity after the election audit in Windham, where he lives. During the pandemic, the percentage of people voting by absentee ballot tripled – from 10 percent of voters to 30 percent. Election officials in Windham ran those ballots through a letter-folding machine, which did not fold them on the score lines. This led to a fold line running through the oval of a candidate on the ballot, according to the forensic audit report. Then, the voting machines mistakenly read the crease through the oval as a vote for that candidate.

The results were close, and the losing candidate requested a recount, which revealed that the results were “way off,” Scanlan said: The Republican candidate gained 300 votes and the Democratic candidate lost 100 votes, but it did not change the result of the election. And in New Hampshire, Scanlan said, there has been no case where a recount led to a different outcome of an election.

Eyring declined to say whether he believes the 2020 presidential election was valid. “That has nothing to do with this,” he said, referring to the commission.

Meyer disagreed. “I think giving a platform for one of the lead conspiracy theorists is very concerning,” he said.

But Scanlan defended his choice to include Eyring on the commission, while also linking the untrue national narrative about the election being stolen from Donald Trump to increased mistrust of elections in New Hampshire.

Scanlan said Eyring represents a segment of the population – and argued in favor of including “diverse” viewpoints on the commission.  

“I think by including Ken and by extension the people that he represents, we are giving them a seat at the table to help us get to the bottom of why there’s an issue of declining voter confidence,” Scanlan said.

Spencer and the group she founded, the Kent Street Coalition, gathered in front of the Archives and Record Management building where the meeting was held, in protest of other kinds of diversity not represented on the committee: racial, socio-economic, levels of ability, and age. Spencer estimated the youngest member of the commission to be around 35. 

The group is calling on the secretary of state to appoint additional members “who will more fully reflect that diversity.” 

“If we’re trying to restore everyone’s confidence in elections, then we need everyone with a place at the table,” Spencer said. 

Scanlan said he sees his tenure as secretary of state as a continuation of the work of his predecessor, Bill Gardner, who faced similar criticism after choosing to serve on Trump’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity in 2017.

“If we want to solve problems, the way you do it is you bring sides together and you have a conversation. And you try to reach some consensus. It may not happen, the whole thing might fall apart, but you have to try,” Scanlan said.

Meyer was skeptical, and said giving a platform to someone who has spread misinformation could weaken confidence in elections, not strengthen it. 

“I don’t know if the secretary of state expects to convince those folks through this process confirming what we already know – which is that our elections are run securely, transparently – but I sincerely doubt that will be the outcome,” he said. 

Scanlan’s commission is co-chaired by former Democratic U.S. representative Richard Swett, who also served as ambassador to Denmark, and Bradford Cook, chair of the N.H. Ballot Law Commission. Other members include Andrew Georgevits, the chairman of the Concord Republican City Committee; Amanda Merrill, a board member for the N.H. Land and Community Heritage Investment Program; Jim Splaine, a prior member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives and Senate; Douglass Teschner, a former Peace Corps director in Ukraine, where he also served as an election observer; and Olivia Zink, executive director of Open Democracy, a nonprofit in Concord.   

The next meeting is scheduled on May 13 at 1 p.m. Cook said future meetings will be available by livestream, and remote participation may be available. 

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Amanda Gokee
Amanda Gokee

Amanda Gokee reported on energy and environment for New Hampshire Bulletin. She also previously reported on these issues at VTDigger. Amanda grew up in Vermont and is a graduate of Harvard University. She received her master’s degree in liberal studies, with a concentration in creative writing, from Dartmouth College. Her work has also appeared in the LA Review of Books and the Valley News.