New Hampshire offers unique solution to voter skepticism with voter confidence committee
Each election cycle has its own challenges, Secretary of State David Scanlan said.
Four years ago, there were concerns about foreign actors hacking voting systems in the United States.
Two years ago, these were conversations about expanding access to mail-in ballots and safely holding an election amid a pandemic.
This year, there is no doubt that the challenge for the newly appointed Secretary of State is public scrutiny of the very systems he oversees. More and more people are interested in how ballots are counted. Fueled by the false rhetoric of a stolen presidential election, voters and candidates have grown more skeptical.
Ensuring the public that New Hampshire has a fair, accurate, and reliable electoral system was one of the goals of Scanlan’s first year as secretary of state. Since May, a new Voter Confidence Commission has traveled the state holding sessions to listen to public opinion on election security.
This is a new experiment in restoring trust in a state that prides itself on democratic participation and civic engagement.
The narrative of electoral skepticism is at the forefront of these midterm elections. These off-cycle contests are usually meant to test the power of the ruling party.
But in 2022, the midterm elections serve as a referendum on allegations of elected officials’ denial of election, Capitol insurrection and confidence in voting systems.
Ahead of the election, Bright Line Watch, a group of political scientists surveyed the public alongside political experts to assess the status of democracy in the United States.
Leading the Bright Line Watch initiative is Brendan Nyhan, professor of government at Dartmouth College – who joined the Keene Public Library Electoral Commission in September to explain the causes of a decline in voter confidence.
Bright Line Watch’s latest October survey found that 41% to 55% of US House members and 35% to 41% of US Senate Republicans are election deniers, combining analysis from three mainstream media.
This national trend is a big concern for Nyhan.
“Clearly saying the 2020 election was stolen is a way of signaling your good faith to the grassroots when you run,” Nyhan said.
Karoline Leavitt, who could be the youngest person elected to Congress if she wins New Hampshire’s first congressional district race, is using her allegiance to Trump as a selling point to voters. Leavitt, who worked in the White House press office under Donald Trump, has repeatedly boasted that he won the 2020 election while on the campaign trail.
Don Bolduc, the Republican candidate who is running against Maggie Hassan for the US Senate, had for months insisted the same without proof that Trump had won. Days after winning his party’s position, Bolduc offered a new narrative for the 2020 election and agreed that Joe Biden was the rightful winner.
With election skeptics on the ballot across the country, New Hampshire offers a unique attempt at a solution to this negative rhetoric, Nyhan said.
“This is an issue that requires a restoration of bipartisan consensus around the legitimacy of our electoral system,” he said.
The committee, to which Scanlan has appointed members from all political backgrounds, attempts to accomplish just that.
At its head is bipartisan collaboration. The commission is co-chaired by former Democratic US Representative Richard Swett, who also served as ambassador to Denmark, and Bradford Cook, who was once considering a Republican bid for governor.
Other members include Andrew Georgevits, chairman of the Republican City Committee of Concord; Amanda Merrill, board member of the NH Land and Community Heritage Investment Program; Jim Splaine, former member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives and Senate; Douglass Teschner, former director of the Peace Corps in Ukraine, where he also served as an election observer; Olivia Zink, executive director of Open Democracy, a Concord nonprofit; and Ken Eyring, co-founder of the Government Integrity Project and resident of Windham, New Hampshire.
Eyring raised eyebrows at his first nomination to the commission given his fierce criticism of how the election went in his hometown in 2020. The small town was at the forefront of election integrity after a recount was required for ballots read in error by voting machines due to creases.
Although a forensic audit and state recount certified the city’s official results, Eyring was at the forefront of voter fraud allegations with online blog posts suggesting it. No evidence of widespread fraud was found in Windham or anywhere else in the state.
Still, Scanlan defended his choice, according to the New Hampshire Bulletin, saying Eyring’s participation on the commission allows them to really understand the issue of voter confidence.
From Scanlan’s perspective, for people to have confidence in how the vote works in the state, they need to understand what happens after the vote.
“We need to be as transparent as possible as election officials,” he said. “We should even take the time to help educate our voters about what really happens in the polling station on election day.”
As Scanlan and his office work to promote that message, Swett and Cook are tasked with listening to voters about their key concerns about voting systems.
“We had the opportunity to record testimony from citizens across the state and examine the election processes that make New Hampshire one of the most trusted election states in the nation,” Swett said.
The commission held listening sessions and offered information on election processes across the state this summer and fall. After the election, they will publish a report on their findings.
“It’s a novel effort, and New Hampshire is a small enough state that something like this could reach people more directly than would be possible in larger states,” Nyhan said.
While the committee has helped facilitate public conversations about electoral processes and trust, the nature of the state and the structure of its elections also help.
New Hampshire boasts of a high turnout. Elections are also decentralized, meaning that local jurisdictions facilitate the voting process. They are neighbors helping their neighbors at the polls.
“The people who actually organize the elections in a polling station are their neighbors,” Scanlan said. “Chances are every voter knows at least one person from the polling station working on Election Day.”
This makes voting a personal and intimate process in a community.
“The clear consensus of what we’ve heard from people who testify every time they think about elections across the country, including Democratic Party leaders and Republican Party lawyers, that they believe elections in the New Hampshire are safe, they are accurate. People should have confidence in themselves and their neighbors driving them,” Cook said.
State leaders’ effort to listen and learn from concerns in previous elections could not only serve as a model for future New Hampshire contests, but also as a roadmap for other states to restore trust in the systems. vote, according to Nyhan.
“To the extent that New Hampshire succeeds in rebuilding bipartisan trust, this could be a really encouraging example for the rest of the country,” he said.
Or it could have ominous repercussions.
“Conversely, we could be the canary in the coal mine,” he said. “A state that prides itself on having knowledgeable, well-informed voters succumbing to this kind of Holocaust denial, I think that would be very concerning.”
Basically, however, the committee asks voters how the state and the country can rebuild after a loss of faith in those systems that are at the heart of democracy.
“This democracy is in dire need of improvement and the trust that the people it serves with its government. And that’s good, I hope this committee can help make a positive contribution to that level of trust,” Swett said. “That level of trust needs to be redone, restored and rebuilt, otherwise we will continue to have the problems we had.”