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Court Tosses Progressive Challenge to State’s New Voter Integrity Law

A New Hampshire judge tossed a lawsuit from progressive organizations challenging the state’s new “affidavit ballot” law, designed to prevent voter fraud by ensuring every voter provides ID.

As soon as Gov. Chris Sununu signed the new law, known as SB418, last year, partisan organizations like 603Forward, Open Democracy Action, the ACLU, and several progressive activists filed suit. They were represented by former Hillary Clinton campaign attorney Marc Elias, best known for his role in the now-debunked “Russia Collusion” dossier scandal.

Hillsborough Superior Court Judge Charles Temple ruled Friday none of the organizations or individuals challenging the law have a case.

Under the new law, voters who register on Election Day without state-required ID are given an affidavit ballot, which is not counted until their identity is verified. The voters are also given a packet of information, including a prepaid overnight envelope, in order to assist them in proving their identity.

Rep. Ross Berry (R-Manchester), chair of the House Election Law Committee, said the court made the right call.

“The court’s dismissal of these lawsuits is a resounding victory for common sense protections of our democratic process,” Berry told NHJournal. “Before SB418, any person could walk into any voting location on Election Day, register to vote without producing any ID or proof of residency, and be handed a ballot. This system was ripe for abuse — and we know it was abused. For example. a former Democrat poll worker voted in the morning, went to his car, put on a wig, then registered as a woman, and cast a second ballot.”

New Hampshire Democrats have long opposed voter ID requirements, and all four members of the federal delegation have voted to let the federal government override states’ voter ID laws.

The plaintiffs, including former Rep. Manny Espitia and progressive activists Dan Weeks and Louise Spencer, argued the law misuses taxpayer money, forcing the Secretary of State’s Office to pay for the information packets, envelopes, and postage. Temple rejected their argument, writing that the state spending money on stamps does not equal a significant constitutional violation.

“These minimal expenditures bear little to no relationship to the merits of the plaintiffs’ claims,” Temple wrote.

Espitia declined to comment when reached by NHJournal.

Organizations like 603Forward tried claiming SB 418 was forcing them to engage in preparing new voters to deal with the law and diverting resources and funds they would have used for other purposes. Temple, again, did not buy that argument, writing the groups failed to identify any actual constitutional rights that were being denied because of SB 418. 

Lucas Meyers with 603Forward declined to comment. 

Chris Ager, chairman of the New Hampshire GOP, applauded the ruling, saying Granite Staters who want secure elections can rest easy.

“This decision is a big step forward in the ongoing effort to ensure the integrity of New Hampshire’s elections,” Ager said. “New Hampshire Republican legislators took the lead on this very important issue. I applaud the court’s decision to further secure our elections for all who cast a ballot. The vast majority of Americans and Granite Staters want voter ID and secure elections, and that’s what New Hampshire Republicans are delivering.”

Secretary of State Dave Scanlan, whose office was a defendant in the case, tried staying above the fray when reached for comment. 

“Judge Temple’s decision is clear and speaks for itself. We have no additional comment,” Scanlan said.

The SB 418 lawsuit is open to appeals, and it is not yet known if the plaintiffs will bring their case to the state Supreme Court or if they will file a motion asking Temple to reconsider his decision first.

The $600 Man Trying To Bring Down Trump

Republican presidential candidate John Castro has no campaign office in New Hampshire, no campaign staff, has met with no voters in the first-in-the-nation primary, and his campaign fund boasts a whopping $670.

The tax-lawyer-turned-social-media-political-activist claims former President Donald Trump is costing him votes and donations, and he is suing the New Hampshire Secretary of State to keep Trump off the ballot. 

Castro brought his low-budget road show to the United States District Court in Concord on Friday to argue before Judge Joseph Lapante that he has the legal standing to engage in the lawsuit by virtue of being a presidential candidate.

But Trump’s lawyers said Castro’s presidential campaign was a stunt meant to create cover for the lawsuit. After Friday’s evidentiary hearing, Trump attorney Jonathan Shaw told NHJournal that Castro’s presidential campaign isn’t real, and his lawsuit ought to be dismissed.

“I think the evidence is clear he has no campaign. What he has is a desire to manufacture standing. He has a theory that by pretending to be a political contender, he has standing. And he’s wrong,” said Jonathan Shaw, one of the Trump’s lawyers.

The Trump campaign, the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s Office, and the New Hampshire Republican Party all oppose Castro’s lawsuit. 

Castro is behind 27 federal lawsuits aimed at Trump, arguing the former president should be barred from office under the 14th Amendment. Castro argued Trump’s actions on Jan. 6, 2021, were akin to partaking in an insurrection, and he ought to be barred from holding office under the Constitution.

Castro claimed that because he is a presidential candidate who paid the $1,000 fee to the New Hampshire secretary of state to file his nomination, he stands to lose if Trump is allowed to run. However, state GOP attorney Bryant Gould said during the hearing that Castro presented no evidence of any Trump voter or donor who would switch to back him if Trump were out of the race.

“That’s the end of the game for you,” Gould said.

Under questioning on the stand, Castro admitted to LaPlante that his presidential campaign was not about winning but all about stopping Trump.

“One might look at your campaign and say your main goal is to establish the impermissibility of the Trump campaign, isn’t that right,” LaPlante asked,

“Yes,” Castro agreed.

Castro’s active social media feed includes tweets going back to 2021, in which he vows to run for president so that he will have legal standing. Standing is the legal principle that people must have good reason to bring a lawsuit, essentially that they have to have a dog in any particular fight. A person with standing can prove they are being harmed in some way.

Brendan O’Donnell, the lawyer for the secretary of state, told LaPlante during the hearing that Castro has no proof he is harmed by Trump’s campaign. There is no proof to his theory that any Trump voters or donors will switch to backing Castro.

“All we have is speculation,” O’Donnell said.

Rick Lehmann, another lawyer representing Trump, told LaPlante that Castro’s Potemkin campaign is an effort to manufacture standing. Castro, the tax lawyer, isn’t harmed by Trump’s candidacy, but Castro, the GOP candidate, is harmed because Trump takes away votes and donations under the theory. 

“He thinks he’s figured out how to pick the lock,” Lehmann told LaPlante.

At the end of Friday’s hearing, LaPlante said he will have a ruling this week to decide if Castro’s lawsuit can proceed. If LaPlante agrees with Castro, that could mean an injunction against the secretary of state prohibiting Trump’s candidacy. Trump is due in New Hampshire on Monday. He has not yet filed his nomination for the primary.

Outside the courthouse, Castro said he was engaging in what he called “lawfare” to keep Trump off the ballot in key swing states and push his candidacy forward. In the coming days, Castro plans to meet with voters, hire staff, and even campaign for the nomination.

The right time to launch will be once Trump gets kicked off the ballot in a state where he is suing, Castro said. That would cause global headlines for Castro’s run.

“Once that happens, it will really open up the campaign,” Castor said.

Castro said he was emulating Trump, leveraging the lawsuits to get free media attention for himself and his campaign.

“I didn’t get to where I’m at in life by burning money. I’m very calculating about how I do things,” Castro said.

Castro claims he is self-funding the camping with revenue generated by his tax law firm, and he has been tied up meeting tax deadlines for his business and has been unable to stump. 

The 27 federal lawsuits are Castro’s main campaign expense, he said during the hearing. He said the campaign had paid all of the federal filing fees to bring the complaints. Each lawsuit has cost his campaign $402 to file, meaning Castro’s presidential campaign has forked up at least $10,000 just to bring all 27 lawsuits. 

It also came out during the hearing that Castro originally planned to self-fund his campaign with a $20 million loan. Castro believed he would be getting a $180 million investment for his AI tax software and planned to use stock in the next company to fund his presidential ambitions. That deal did not work out, and he has been running on a tighter budget since.  

 

New NH Business Filings Are Booming, NHSOS Reports

New Hampshire’s economy keeps booming, and more residents are looking to themselves to create the next opportunity, according to the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s (NHSOS) Corporation Division.

The state reached the milestone of 100,000 LLC and corporation annual reports processed this year, a 7.5 percent increase over last year.

“The number of LLC formations in New Hampshire also continues to increase each year as a result of New Hampshire’s strong economy,” the NHSOS office said in a statement. “On average, over 2,000 new businesses are forming each month with our office, most of which are small businesses.”

The numbers are getting rave reviews.

“This is what a strong economy looks like,” Greg Moore, director of Americans for Prosperity/New Hampshire said on Twitter.

The Granite State is outperforming the rest of New England economically, becoming one of the country’s leading economies, with a population of just 1.4 million people. 

“Despite the national narrative around the state of the U.S. economy and a potential slowdown, New Hampshire’s economy is healthy and continues to attract entrepreneurs and new business owners given our pro-business climate,” said Michael Skelton, president and CEO of the Business and Industry Association, the statewide chamber of commerce and leading business advocate.

New Hampshire’s economy, freedom from sales and income taxes, and overall business-friendly environment is attracting more people to move here, and they are succeeding.

New Hampshire’s unemployment rate is a stunning 2.4 percent, a full percentage point below the national average of 3.4 percent. The poverty rate for the state is 7.2 percent, well below the national rate of 11.6 percent. On top of that, the state’s GDP rose again this year to $84 billion, up 2.5 percent from last year. 

More young people are moving to New Hampshire as well, as 25-29-year-olds looking to start careers after college are choosing the Granite State. New Hampshire is the second favorite destination in the age group, after Utah.

The influx of people attracted to New Hampshire’s freedom and independence means more people are starting businesses, the engine that is driving New Hampshire’s boom.

The state is also blowing past old records when it comes to export revenue. Last year, New Hampshire businesses brought home $1 billion more in revenue than they did in 2021, up to $7.3 billion in total.

The export revenue increase is just another reason for people to move to New Hampshire, Gov. Chris Sununu said at the time.

“I encourage any business, small or large, to make the Granite State their home. We are open for business!” Sununu said.

The number of LLC, limited liability corporations, formed in New Hampshire continues to increase each year as a result of New Hampshire’s strong economy, according to the Secretary of State’s Office. On average, more than 2,000 new businesses are forming each month with the state, most of which are small businesses, the NHSOS office reports.

“We understand business owners are busy, so we strive to make it as simple as possible for businesses to stay in compliance with the requirement to file their annual report,” said Thomas Connolly, Director of the Corporation Division. “Our corporate database is an essential tool to support business activity throughout the State.”

NH Voter Confidence Committee: ‘Our Electoral System Works’

Granite State elections are free, fair, and accurate according to a report issued Thursday by the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s Special Committee on Voter Confidence. 

“Our electoral system works,” said Ambassador Dick Swett, the committee’s co-chair.

Secretary of State Dave Scanlan said while the report is non-binding, he and his staff will review the findings and address areas of concern identified during months of hearings and public listening sessions.

Scanlan said Thursday he hoped New Hampshire voters read the report and gain confidence in the elections held in the state. The report found more transparency is needed to make sure voters can see how the process works.

“Voters should be able to see the process and feel confident votes are collected, secure, and counted,” he said.

 

Ambassador Richard Swett, New Hampshire Secretary of State David Scanlan, and Bradford Cook speak to press about the Committee on Voter Confidence’s final report.

Scanlan created the committee to address concerns about the election process expressed by some Granite State residents. It was an issue former President Donald Trump put front and center in his 2024 presidential bid. While the committee found some minor concerns, Chair Bradford Cook said New Hampshire elections are free from systemic fraud and abuse and they are run by “friends and neighbors.”

“We listened to concerns, but all in all I think our report says and we believe New Hampshire elections are free from any systemic fraud,” Cook said. “Elections are designed to do one thing, elect the people who get the most votes or pass the resolutions that get the most votes, and our elections do that.”

A University of New Hampshire poll released earlier this month found 91 percent of Granite State residents are very or somewhat confident the November 2022 votes were counted accurately. Nationwide, 70 percent of Americans said in October voting was handled well.

Still, the report found more can be done to educate voters and election workers, adding to the confidence voters have in their elections. There is also a need to recruit more election workers, especially as many current election officials are aging and stepping down.

Swett said the committee heard from people who had specific complaints about the process or concerns about how some local election officials operated, which is reflected in the report. He wants to see the report open a dialogue in the state on how to strengthen the process.

“It has in it both the good, the bad, and the ugly,” Swett said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to be able to continue to improve the election process.”

He said that getting more people involved is vital to improving confidence and ensuring the process stays accurate and fair. He said that local involvement by regular voters for necessary to the functioning of that process.

“Being involved locally in your elections is what makes your elections safe and secure,” Swett said. “People need to get more involved by voting, volunteering, and making sure elections are fair and secure.”

The report was signed by seven of the eight committee members. The lone holdout was Windham’s Ken Eyring. He said Thursday he largely agrees with the report the committee issued but plans to present his own independent report to Scanlan that includes more emphasis on the concerns he heard from members of the public.

“I focused on capturing all public sentiment, positive and negative,” Eyring said. “I believe every concern should be presented (to Scanlan.)”

Eyring was involved in the Windham audit movement that questioned the results of that election after problems were found with the 2020 election in that town. An independent audit of Windham found folded ballots misread by machines resulted in skewed vote totals.

A subsequent state review also faulted local officials for compounding the errors by cutting corners ahead of the 2020 election according to a January letter from New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella and then-Secretary of State William Gardner to Windham town officials. Windham officials reportedly used an uncalibrated machine to tabulate the votes and skimped on a practice run that would have likely caught the issue before the election. The state required an election observer to oversee the election in 2022 in Windham to make sure it stayed free from potential problems.

Scanlan said his office is already working on addressing many of the concerns found by the committee, and he plans to bring proposals to the state’s Ballot Law Commission in the coming months for consideration.

The full committee report will be available online in the coming week.

Judge Orders NH House Dem Accused of Stalking to Remain Behind Bars

State Rep. Stacie Laughton (D-Nashua) will remain in jail as her attorney negotiates a plea agreement in the criminal case alleging she serially harassed a Hudson woman. 

Laughton, New Hampshire’s first elected transgender state representative, is not leaving Valley Street Jail in Manchester until at least Dec. 22, the date of her next hearing. Her attorney, Elliot Friedman, told Judge John Curran he hoped to have a resolution to the numerous criminal charges worked out with prosecutors in the coming weeks.

“We are negotiating a resolution,” Friedman said.

Laughton’s continued custody complicates Democratic hopes of wresting control of the House of Representatives from the GOP. With a razor-thin 201-198 GOP majority in the House, control of the body and the outcome of the secretary of state election on Organization Day (December 7) will come down to attendance.

Laughton is accused of repeatedly violating orders to leave a Hudson woman alone as well as charges of stalking, criminal defamation, and making false 911 calls. Laughton is already facing jail time after she pleaded no contest this summer to charges of making false 911 calls about the same victim. Prosecutors have told the court they plan to ask for the imposition of the suspended nine-month sentence brought in that case.

Laughton is being held without bail on the grounds she presents an ongoing danger to the community and the alleged victim. She was under court orders to leave the woman alone when she allegedly continued her campaign of harassment that stretches back to 2019.

Laughton’s status hearing, held in the Nashua District Court on Thursday, left the troubled state representative in jail pending the plea negotiations. Laughton appeared in court via video feed from Valley Street Jail. Laughton offered little comment during the brief hearing other than to object to the presence of media in the courtroom.

“I object to the press,” Laughton told Curran. “I will give interviews, but I figure right now this is a personal matter I need to deal with without the pressures of the press.”

Curran denied her objection, stating there is no reason to keep the press out of an open court proceeding.

Laughton could technically still travel to Concord for Organization Day, legislative sources said. New Hampshire’s Constitution bars police from stopping representatives from attending sessions at the State House. The question is, how badly do Democrats want her there?

Democratic Caucus leader, progressive Rep. Matt Wilhelm (D-Manchester), declined to respond to repeated requests for comment.

Laughton’s disturbed behavior has been apparent for years before she won office as a state representative in 2020. She was convicted in 2008 of credit card fraud for stealing from a person in Laconia. Laughton was then charged in 2015 for calling in a bomb threat at the Southern New Hampshire Medical Center hospital in Nashua. Those charges were later dropped as Laughton claimed she was suffering from a mental health crisis at the time.

Laughton won a seat for state representative in 2012 but was forced to resign soon after her 2008 credit card fraud arrest became public. Despite pressure from the Democratic Party, Laughton tried to run again to fill the seat in a special election after her resignation; that bid was cut short when it was deemed she was legally ineligible for office at the time since she was still technically serving her suspended sentence for the felony credit card fraud case.

NHDP ‘Senior Advisor’ Levesque Wants Secretary of State’s Job

Former state Sen. Melanie Levesque wants to be the Granite State’s next secretary of state, giving her the authority to oversee the state’s elections.

But critics say that would conflict with her current position: “Senior advisor to the New Hampshire Democratic Party.” And she is also a representative of a far-left organization that targeted New Hampshire’s election laws and promotes conspiracy theories about New Hampshire’s electoral college votes being “stolen.”

Levesque, an outspoken progressive Democrat, lost her bid to unseat Republican Kevin Avard earlier this month. Despite losing by nearly 700 votes, she made the odd request for a recount of her race.

But Thursday morning, she dropped her recount demand and instead released a statement announcing her intent to challenge current Secretary of State David Scanlan. The secretary of state is selected by the state legislature.

“It is no secret. Over the past decade in New Hampshire, our sacred right — the right to vote — has been under attack. New Hampshire has become home to some of the most aggressive attacks on our democracy,” Levesque said. “New Hampshire desperately needs a new secretary of state that will work tirelessly to ensure that every eligible voter can cast a ballot without unnecessary government interference.”

New Hampshire has a tradition of nonpartisanship in its Secretary of State’s Office, established by legendary Secretary Bill Gardner, who retired last January as the nation’s longest-serving secretary of state. Though a former Democratic state representative, Gardner established a strong reputation for working with both sides of the aisle, angering his fellow Democrats by serving on President Trump’s voter fraud commission.

In 2018, Democrats unhappy with Gardner supported failed gubernatorial candidate Colin Van Ostern for the position. Gardner picked up GOP support and was re-elected by a one-vote margin.

Scanlan, who spent 20 years as Gardner’s deputy, said he feels comfortable with his chances of keeping his job when the legislature votes. Asked about Levesque’s candidacy, he told NHJournal, “She’s welcome to do that.”

As a senator, Levesque chaired the Senate Election Law Committee where she advocated allowing unlimited mail-in ballots and voter registration over the internet.

Levesque is also an outspoken advocate of the federal “For The People Act” which would override New Hampshire’s election laws, end voter ID mandates, and force New Hampshire to provide a ballot to everyone without asking for identification. It would also override laws banning ballot harvesting (as long as the harvesters are not paid per ballot) and mandate curbside voting.

Levesque is such a strong advocate of those progressive voting policies she recorded a video on the anniversary of the House of Representatives’ passage of the “For the People Act” with fellow Democrat, state Sen. Tom Sherman.

 

The New Hampshire Democratic Party declined requests for comment about Levesque’s current position with the party. Levesque also refused to respond to reporters’ questions.

And a progressive group called The States Project features Levesque on its website, along with it goal to “block rightwing policies that harm New Hampshirites [sic] from becoming law and protect the Granite State’s four electoral votes from being stolen in the next presidential election.”

It also brags about its partisan involvement in New Hampshire’s legislative elections. “The States Project was early to identify the New Hampshire Senate as the most endangered majority in the country in 2020, after helping to flip it in 2018 by only 300 votes.”

Republicans immediately raised concerns about a partisan activist potentially serving in a position of overseeing the state’s elections.

“New Hampshire’s secretary of state has a historic record of working in a nonpartisan way to advocate for our election processes,” said Sen. Regina Birdsell (R-Derry), who serves on the Election Law and Municipal Affairs Committee. “I don’t believe anyone serving as a partisan advisor such as Mrs. Levesque can be entrusted to fulfill that role with the objectivity required.”

For his part, Scanlan has made increasing voter trust in the state’s election process. He created the Special Committee on Voter Confidence to address concerns about election integrity in New Hampshire. That committee has found no evidence of wide-scale voter fraud, and it is expected to issue its report in the coming weeks.

If the GOP backs Scanlan over Levesque, the narrow Republican majority could carry him to his first elected term in office, aided by the GOP’s 14-10 majority in the Senate. Republicans looked like they cemented their small lead over Democrats on Thursday with the reopening of the Hillsborough 16 district election that is likely to return the seat to Republican Larry Gagne.

‘Election Day’-Ja Vu: Windham Ballot Problems Discovered

Here we go again. 

On the eve of the primary election came reports out of Windham that ballots are being folded with the crease going through the voting oval, apparently repeating the same errors that led to an extensive audit of the town’s ballot system after the 2020 election.

According to reports, absentee ballots sent to Windham voters ahead of Tuesday’s primary have been folded twice, with the creases going through the ovals. The same improper folds on absentee ballots in 2020 resulted in anomalous results and new state oversight of the vote.

Windham Town Clerk Nicole Merrill could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Town Hall staff said she was away at Windham High School setting up for the election.

Both Anna Fay with the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s Office, and Michael Garrity with the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office said state election monitors will be on hand Tuesday to make sure the election goes off smoothly.

“There will be an election monitor at the Windham polling place tomorrow. If there are any problems with improper folds or other issues, they will act accordingly,” Fay said.

Windham is one of three communities that will have state monitors in place to oversee the primary election due to multiple errors found in the 2020 voting process.

Windham, Bedford and Ward 6 in Laconia will all have election monitors in place In Windham, the audit found the vote total discrepancy was due to the improper folds. The folds in the paper ballots made it difficult for optical scan vote counters, AccuVote machines, to record the votes properly.

A state review also faulted local officials for compounding the errors by cutting corners, according to a January letter from New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella and Secretary of State William Gardner to Windham town officials.

“(S)imply out, town election officials cut corners. Some of those shortcuts created errors — such as using an uncalibrated folding machine — which were unintentional and perhaps unforeseeable, but ultimately resulted in ballots not being accurately counted,” the letter states.

The state ended up paying at least $123,000 for the outside experts to audit Windham’s voting totals.

In Bedford, a months-long controversy over 190 ballots that were never counted resulted in the Secretary of State deciding the town will have a state-appointed official to oversee the September primary.

“As a result of the concerns and shortcomings described in this and our prior correspondences, the Attorney General makes a finding that the November 2020 General Election returns from Bedford had significant deficiencies,” Myles Matteson of the state Attorney General’s Election Law Unit wrote to Bedford town officials.

In Laconia, a joint investigation conducted by the Attorney General’s Office and the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s Office found that 179 ballots went uncounted after the 2020 general election. The errors in this case were blamed on Ward 6 moderator Tony Felch.

“The ballots in the side compartment were not counted because Laconia Ward 6 Moderator Felch did not understand the basic functions of the ballot collection box,” according to the Attorney General’s release on the matter.

Felch was forced to resign from his volunteer position as part of the resolution of the incident.