The Bulletin Board

Legislation on removal of election officials draws criticism

By: - January 21, 2022 11:40 am
A sign saying vote here in a red arrow that points toward a line of people in a building

Election officials take an oath that they will perform their duties properly when they are sworn into office. (Drew Angerer | Getty Images)

The House Election Law Committee heard testimony Thursday on a bill that would allow voters to remove election officials from office by suing them – a move opponents say would open the door to frivolous or politically motivated lawsuits and make it even harder to fill these positions.

One of the sponsors of House Bill 1567, Rep. Mark Alliegro, a Campton Republican, said on Thursday the bill is intended to provide recourse to voters who see infractions of election law occur at their polling place and to ensure election integrity. The bill “allows recourse for voters to take the matter to court to file, and if found negligent, that local official can be removed from office,” Alliegro said.

The New Hampshire Municipal Association opposed the bill. Natch Greyes, government affairs counsel for the organization, said there’s already a way in statute to remove election officials who break the rules. Election officials take an oath that they will perform their duties properly when they are sworn into office; if they don’t, they can be fired, per New Hampshire law.   

Another problem, according to Greyes, is that there’s no penalty in the bill for a frivolous lawsuit. “So if I don’t like the result that comes out of my polling place … I could just go file suit and allege that something has occurred,” he said. And that could cost both the town and possibly the election official.

Cristina Guilford, the Derry town moderator, testified that the bill would deter candidates who might otherwise be interested in working on elections for the town.  

“The way this bill is written, it’s going to be next to impossible to hire people,” she told lawmakers on Thursday. “I’ve already had assistant moderators reach out to me and tell me, ‘If this is how it’s going to be, I’m not going to work anymore.’”

The bill would reimburse a voter for legal fees if the court decided to remove an official, but not a town official or town if the court ruled in their favor. Even if they win, they could be out thousands of dollars, Guilford said. 

“There’s no reason to participate,” she said.

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Amanda Gokee
Amanda Gokee

Amanda Gokee is the New Hampshire Bulletin’s energy and environment reporter. She 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.