AG issues cease-and-desist letter against NH Democrats for erroneous absentee ballot mailers
New Hampshire Democratic Party headquarters on State Street in Concord. (Dana Wormald | New Hampshire Bulletin)
New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella ordered the New Hampshire Democratic Party to stop issuing mailers that his office said contain false information about absentee voting and could disenfranchise voters.
In a cease-and-desist order sent to the party Friday, the Attorney General’s Office said the party had sent mailings to voters that contained invalid return addresses, and that were littered with incorrect details about the voters’ domicile address and voting history.
The mailers were sent to 39 towns and affected 926 voters, the department said.
State Democratic Party Executive Director Troy Price acknowledged the incorrect mailers Friday, calling them “a regrettable clerical error made by a mail vendor.”
“The NHDP has been transparent about the issues with this mailing and have been working with the Attorney General’s Office to remedy the situation,” he said in a statement. “We have already taken steps to contact the voters affected, and we expect to have this issue resolved shortly.”
According to the Attorney General’s Office, the erroneous mailers contained layers of false information. The mailers stated to voters: “You have a history of requesting absentee ballots,” even when some who received them did not. Some mailers also listed the voter’s domicile address as a town or city in which they don’t actually live.
And in some mailers, the return envelopes for absentee ballots directed voters to send ballots to election entities that don’t actually exist in the state, addressing the return envelopes to “[County Name] Board of Elections,” the Attorney General’s Office said. The addresses to the town and city clerks were also sometimes inaccurate, the office stated.
“The NHDP’s mailer, with incorrect return mail addresses and voter domicile information, is causing voter confusion and frustration,” the office said in a statement.
The problem was first noticed in Kingston on Sept. 21, according to the attorney general’s cease-and-desist letter. The town clerk in East Kingston – a separate town from Kingston – noticed absentee ballot requests arriving that were addressed to the East Kingston clerk’s office but clearly intended to go to the Kingston clerk’s office. The return envelopes were also addressed to the Rockingham Board of Elections, which was also incorrect.
In order to head off further problems, Department of Justice Chief Investigator Richard Tracy requested that the U.S. Post Office in Kingston hold any return envelopes from the mailer in order to make sure that they were delivered to the correct clerk’s office, the cease-and-desist letter said.
The Attorney General’s Office also contacted New Hampshire Democratic Party officials on Sept. 21, who told the office they were working to reach out to voters affected in Kingston and remediate the problem.
On Sept. 22, the party informed the Attorney General’s Office that the errors appeared beyond Kingston and East Kingston, affecting 39 towns in total. A day later, Formella issued the cease-and-desist letter. The names of the 37 other towns have not been released by the Department of Justice.
The consequences for the incorrect mailers could have been significant, the Attorney General’s Office said.
Submitting the incorrect information could have caused voters to accidentally violate RSA 657:6, which requires voters to mail absentee ballot requests to their town clerk. And the office said that it could have disenfranchised voters, who may have realized too late that their absentee ballot applications were never received and that their absentee ballots are not arriving as expected.
Formella ordered the party to provide his office a remediation plan by Sept. 27 that lays out how the affected voters will be contacted and how any ballot applications will be corrected.
“The NHDP is required to notify each recipient of this mailer of the necessary remediation steps that they must take, including using the correct address for their clerk’s office, in order to obtain an absentee ballot prior to the general election,” the letter states.
And the office said it would instruct town and city clerks who do get the erroneous absentee ballot applications to accept them even though they contain bad information.
In his statement, Price said the error-ridden mailers were sent “with the intention of ensuring every Granite Stater was able to cast their ballot in this year’s general election.”
New Hampshire Republican Party Executive Director Elliot Gault called the development “deeply troubling” and charged the Democratic Party with spreading “election confusion in Rockingham County – a county where Republican voter registrations outnumber Democrat registrations.”
“By seemingly creating a fictitious ‘Rockingham Board of Elections’ this has the potential to spread misinformation regarding the upcoming 2022 election and I commend the Attorney General’s office for issuing this cease & desist letter,” Gault said. “Overburdening municipalities with their mistake is unacceptable. The New Hampshire Democrat Party needs to immediately implement a solution to prevent any of the voters they mailed from being disenfranchised or suppressed from the voting process this November.”
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