When asked whether he knows of any evidence of voter fraud in New Hampshire, the state's top election official, Secretary of State David Scanlan, said Friday that examples of "inappropriate voting" crop up "in every election."
"There's usually two or three individuals that have violated the law," he said, "and we know the AG's office, when they find that, they'll prosecute it and they have gotten convictions. But it is a very small number."
"There's no evidence that I've seen of any organized widespread voter fraud taking place in New Hampshire," he added.
Scanlan made the comments during a Q&A session after his presentation at the University of New Hampshire Law Review's annual symposium in Concord, where government officials, civic organization leaders and scholars spoke on a wide range of election-related topics.
Despite his reassuring conclusion, Scanlan made clear that New Hampshire election officials face significant challenges these days, often related to public trust in the process.
"It used to be, even a decade ago, running an election was kind of a sleepy thing. It was a ministerial duty," he said. "You made sure that the polling places were equipped with ballots and everything they needed to run the election. Voters for the most part had faith in the outcome of the election. They trusted the process. But that's changing."
Bad info spreads with ease
Election-related misinformation and disinformation have thrived in the past decade with the rise of social media and groups of likeminded people who spread ideas without regard for their accuracy, Scanlan said.
"There are false narratives out there about our election process and whether it can be trusted. And the unfortunate thing is we have leaders in our national parties – and it happens in both parties – that make statements that would lead people to believe that our elections are not accurate and the results from an election don't reflect the outcome," he said.
Scanlan didn't mention any politicians by name, but he alluded to those who are currently advancing former President Donald Trump's claims that President Joe Biden didn't actually win in 2020. Some recite such claims for their own political gain, he said.
Polls show roughly 70% of Republicans view Biden's electoral victory as illegitimate.
Democrats, too, have cast doubt on past elections. Hillary Clinton, who lost to Trump in 2016, said in a 2019 interview that Trump "knows he's an illegitimate president." Clinton complained of various tactics used against her campaign.
Former President Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, similarly said in 2019 that he believes a full investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election "would show that Trump didn't actually win." (An investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller concluded that the Russian government sought to help Trump and hurt Clinton, but Mueller's final report doesn't offer a conclusion on whether that interference impacted how the American public voted.)
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When people claim an official's electoral victory was "illegitimate" or an election was "stolen," even when there's no good proof to support such a claim, that fuels conspiracy theories related to "parts of the election process that are not completely transparent," Scanlan said.
"People question voting machines and whether they count accurately. That's because the voter can't actually see what's happening inside the counting device," he said.
So the solution to a wide variety of election-related challenges, Scanlan said, is to make the election process as transparent as possible. "There shouldn't be any secrets," he said. The idea is to improve voter confidence by educating the public about how they can watch the process from start to finish.
Efforts underway to boost confidence
Boosting public confidence in New Hampshire's voting process has been a major theme of Scanlan's first year in the job. He stepped into his current role in January after serving as deputy to longtime Secretary of State Bill Gardner, who retired after 45 years at the post.
Scanlan convened the Special Committee on Voter Confidence to identify why confidence is in decline and what the state can do about it. The eight-member committee has met regularly since May and hosted public hearings around the state.
The committee meetings were featured Monday in a story by Joana Slater for The Washington Post.
"At an August meeting in Nashua, the vibe is polite with a hint of tension," Slater wrote. "No one knows how much of the nation’s broader political turbulence is about to erupt in the room."
Slater's report highlights the story of one voter whose doubts and confusions were fueled by what she heard at one of the committee's meeting – an outcome that shows how difficult it is to address misgivings and conspiracy theories head-on without amplifying them.
The special committee has been drafting a report with its findings and recommendations.
Comments about politics and control
Scanlan, a Republican, was asked Friday about the role peer pressure plays among leaders in his party who have embraced claims of electoral illegitimacy. He responded by saying he doesn't understand why national leaders who make such statements build massive followings despite the lack of evidence to support their positions.
"It all comes back to politics and control and winning elections and, unfortunately, other candidates out there that are willing to follow the crowd to get elected even when they know that what is being said is not accurate," he said.
Unfortunately, other candidates out there ... are willing to follow the crowd to get elected even when they know that what is being said is not accurate.
Scanlan said New Hampshire is "fortunate" because state lawmakers pick the secretary of state rather than the voting public directly deciding who will fill the job.
"It's a smaller pool of people that hopefully know how the office works and what's needed in terms of the person that should be elected by them to run it," he said. "But in many other states and some of our neighboring states, the secretaries of state run at large on the partisan ballot, and so they have to appeal to the electorate that is going to put them in that position."
Without naming Trump, Scanlan acknowledged that there are current candidates running in other states by supporting Trump's narrative – "and we have to get away from that," Scanlan said. "The position of Secretary of State and the office is too important."
Finding the right balance
When it comes to drafting and enacting election laws, members of both major parties need to remember the goal isn't just to make it easier to vote and isn't just to make the system more secure. Policymakers need to recognize the "natural tension" between those principles, both of which are important, he said.
As a prime example of the sort of "misinformation" that hampers voter confidence, Scanlan cited a study that was recently highlighted by articles in The New York Times and other news outlets. The study ranked New Hampshire dead last among states in ease of voting.
What's missing from the report, Scanlan said, is any recognition of the balance New Hampshire has struck with voting security. What's more, he said, polls show Granite Staters overwhelmingly believe it's easy to vote and have confidence in the outcome.
"New Hampshire, I think, has a really good balance. Can we improve things? Of course we can," he said. "But the proof is in the pudding."