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Bid to make voter ballots public

JAFFREY — A Jaffrey woman is taking her fight for greater transparency in the local, state and federal election process to the N.H. Supreme Court.

Deborah Sumner of Jaffrey maintains that it is the public’s right and responsibility to verify election results, and that reviewing ballots in all elections should be possible without a court order.

At the same time, Sumner told the Ledger-Transcript on Monday that she is seeking support for a 2013 petition warrant article that would encourage public verification of votes in her hometown. The moderator would be directed by voters, according to the petition article, to hand count “one or more competitive/high profile questions, chosen at random after the polls close, in any town, school district, state or federal contest and to make that totally public.”

Sumner maintains that the state Legislature erred in its attempts to exempt ballots from the Right to Know provisions added in 2003, as amended in HB 627-FN and in 2012, when it decided not to repeal the exemption in HB 1548. Sumner is now asking the Supreme Court to invalidate the ballot exemption from the Right to Know law, as well as support her and the state in developing a process by which ballots can be reviewed after the recount period is over.

“This would apply to all future elections and allow the press and members of the public to verify election results if they have questions,” Sumner said.

In August 2012, Sumner filed a Right to Know request and a preliminary injunction with the Cheshire County Superior Court so that all Jaffrey ballots from the Nov. 2, 2010, election could be preserved for her review. But Sumner said it was during her proceedings with the court and consultation with the town, that she learned the town of Jaffrey had destroyed the ballots months before her request.

Jaffrey Town Clerk Maria Chamberlain told the Ledger-Transcript in October 2012 that because 2010 was not a presidential election year, it was her understanding that the 22-month deadline to retain election ballots did not apply. Chamberlain said she followed state statute, which reads that federal elections ballots must be retained 22 months after an election, while non-federal and all other ballots must be kept for 60 days after the election.

The Superior Court dismissed Sumner’s case against the state of New Hampshire on Sept. 24, 2012. Sumner said she filed a motion for reconsideration soon after, but the court denied her motion in mid-October. That’s when Sumner said she took her case to the N.H. Supreme Court in December 2012.

In a letter to N.H. Secretary of State William Gardner in May 2012, Sumner cites a number of potential issues with the November 2010 election in Jaffrey, including miscommunication between the Secretary of State’s Office and the town. She wrote, “The review won’t affect the outcome of any recount or election, but will most likely show that all was fine with the November 2010 election in Jaffrey.”

Jaffrey’s Town Moderator Marc Tieger could not be reached for comment before press time Monday.

Although the ballots are now gone, Sumner said she will continue to advocate for changes in state law so that when there are concerns regarding a public review can be undertaken.

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