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ACLU of NH Sues To Block Secretary Of State From Disclosing Statewide Voter Information

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire today sued to bar the New Hampshire Secretary of State William Gardner from illegally disclosing statewide information concerning New Hampshire voters.  The complaint can be found attached below.

On Friday, June 30, 2017, Secretary Gardner agreed to produce to the recently-created Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity (the “Commission”) statewide information concerning over 984,000 registered voters’ names, domicile and mailing addresses, and party affiliation, if any. This response ignored New Hampshire laws that place strict and binding requirements on how the State is to produce voter information.  (See RSA 654:31)

“The legislature carefully designed strict restrictions on the sharing of voter information for good reason: to protect voter privacy,” stated Representative Neal Kurk (R-NH), a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “These protections would be rendered meaningless by the transfer of this data to the Commission, which has established no security protocols and intends to post everything it receives online.”

Representative Kurk was involved in the crafting of the relevant statutes under RSA 654:31, which limit the prospect of mass dissemination of this statewide voter information in order to ensure that statewide voter information is only used for political purposes, not for commercial gain. (RSA 654:31(VI) explicitly prohibits voter information from being used for commercial purposes.)

“The Secretary of State has no statutory authority to release a copy of the statewide public checklist to anyone other than a political party, political committee, or candidate for New Hampshire office,” stated Senator Betty Lasky (D-NH), another plaintiff in the case.

RSA 654:31(II)-(III) only allows requesters to: (i) view the statewide public checklist on the statewide centralized voter registration database at the state records and archives center during normal business hours where requesters are prohibited from printing, duplicating, transmitting, or altering the data and (ii) obtain hard copies of the public checklist from local municipalities on a town-by-town/ward-by-ward basis at a fee of at least $25 per municipality or ward.

“The Commission is not entitled to special, unwritten exemptions from the Secretary of State that circumvent New Hampshire law,” stated Gilles Bissonnette, Legal Director of the ACLU of NH. “He must apply the law to the Commission no differently than he would apply the law to a regular member of the public seeking this information.”

The lawsuit, Kurk v. Gardner, seeks to bar the Secretary of State from disclosing this information without full compliance with New Hampshire law. It was filed in Hillsborough Superior Court South.

FINAL Filed Complaint (1)

ACLU Launches Multi-State Legal Action on Voting Rights

Seeks Information Related to New Trump Election Commission

The myth that is voter fraud is pushing legislation in many states and now President Trump has created a new commission to study “election integrity.”

“The President of the United States has alleged that “millions of votes” were “illegally” cast “for the other side” during the November 2016 General Election. No concrete evidence has been provided thus far to support the President’s serious indictment against American democracy. Yet the President’s allegations are the basis of an Executive Order, issued today, directing the Vice President to establish a “Commission on Election Integrity.”This FOIA demands that the government release the factual bases and evidence supporting the President’s allegations,” wrote the ACLU in a May 11th Freedom of Information Act request.

Though President Trump announced plans to form the commission months ago, he signed the executive order just last week. The commission is headed up by Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, whom the ACLU has successfully sued numerous times over his voter suppression policies. The FOIA requests target commission members who currently serve as secretaries of state — Kobach of Kansas, Connie Lawson of Indiana, Bill Gardner of New Hampshire, and Matthew Dunlap of Maine — as well as Christy McCormick, commissioner of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.

Multiple reports have shown that voter fraud is a myth and that we have had only a couple of actual cases of voter fraud out of millions of ballots cast.

Earlier this year, in an interview with CNN, Kobach claimed he had reason to believe out-of-state residents voted illegally in New Hampshire — because Kobach said New Hampshire’s Secretary of State told him thousands of people registered to vote using out-of-state licenses on the day of the election.

“Now some of those are going to be legit, they’re going to be people who just moved to New Hampshire and hadn’t yet gotten a New Hampshire driver’s license,” Kobach told CNN. “But many of those will be out-of-state residents who voted in the state.”

(From NHPR)

“We haven’t seen any evidence that there’s widespread voter fraud taking place. We do get anecdotal reports, but the substance is not available to back up those claims,” David Scanlan, NH’s Deputy Secretary of State told WMUR. “We do know that voter fraud does occur in every election on a small scale.”

Despite a complete lack of evidence Trump and Kobach continue to make claims that thousands of out-of-staters are coming to New Hampshire to vote.  Even after Sec. Gardner stated that voter fraud does not exist in New Hampshire, he has thrown his weight behind SB3, saying that there is an “perception” that voter fraud exists.  This “perception,” not actual voter fraud, is leading the legislature to change the law.  While proponents say that everyone who voted in 2016 would be able to vote in 2018 if SB3 passes, opponents of the bill say it is “voter suppression” aimed at making it harder for young people to vote.

Today, the American Civil Liberties Union sent coordinated Freedom of Information Act requests to officials in Kansas, Indiana, New Hampshire, Maine, and the U.S. Election Assistance Commission seeking information related to the Trump administration’s new “Presidential Commission on Election Integrity.”

“We believe the outcome of the commission’s investigation is preordained,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “It’s time to shed light on whether any commission members were crafting policy recommendations before their investigation was launched or the commission was even formally announced. If they’ve got evidence, it’s time to stop hiding and start sharing.”


Attached is NH’s FOIA request all of the rest of today’s FOIA requests are available here.

5.18.17_new_hampshire_rtk_request

ACLU Report Exposes Debtors’ Prison Practices in New Hampshire

Investigation Finds That New Hampshire Commonly,
and Unconstitutionally, Jails People for Inability to Pay Fines

Prison Walls (Babak Farrokhi FLIKR)

Prison Walls (Babak Farrokhi FLIKR)

CONCORD – The U.S. Constitution and New Hampshire state law prohibit courts from jailing people for being too poor to pay their legal fines, but local courts throughout New Hampshire are doing it anyway. The ACLU of New Hampshire (“ACLU-NH”) today released Debtors’ Prisons in New Hampshire, a report that chronicles a year-long investigation into New Hampshire’s debtors’ prison practices.

This investigation was initiated after the ACLU-NH handled three cases in 2014 where two Superior Court Judges and the New Hampshire Supreme Court granted relief to three indigent individuals—Alejandra Corro, Richard Vaughan, and Dennis Suprenant—who were (or were going to be) illegally jailed by circuit courts due to their inability to pay fines. These cases, which are described in the “Personal Stories” section of the report, show that debtors’ prison practices can counterproductively lead to termination of an individual’s new employment, impede ongoing efforts of that individual to gain employment, and prevent struggling parents from caring for their infant children.

“Being poor is not a crime in this country,” said Devon Chaffee, Executive Director of the ACLU-NH. “Incarcerating people who cannot afford to pay fines is both unconstitutional and cruel. It takes a tremendous toll on precisely those families already struggling the most.”

The law requires that courts hold hearings to determine defendants’ financial status before jailing them for failure to pay fines, and defendants must be provided with lawyers for these hearings. If a defendant cannot pay, the court must explore options other than jail.

“Supreme Court precedent and New Hampshire law make clear that local courts and jails should not function as debtors’ prisons,” said Albert E. Scherr, a Professor of Law at the University of New Hampshire School of Law and Chairman of the ACLU-NH Board of Directors. “Yet circuit courts in New Hampshire routinely jail people without making any attempt whatsoever to determine whether they can afford to pay their fines.”

Beyond its clear illegality, debtors’ prison practices make no financial sense since the government spends more to jail defendants than it ever recovers in fines. As the report explains, it costs New Hampshire’s county jails approximately $110 per day to house an individual, yet an individual serves off a fine at a rate of $50 per day. This $50 per day amount will never be paid back to the government once that time is served. Based on the data received and this $110 per day cost, the report concludes that the total costs of these practices to taxpayers statewide can be reasonably approximated to $166,870 in 2013 to address an estimated $75,850 in unpaid fines that were ultimately never collected.

“Not only are these courts violating the law, they are actually causing the government to lose money doing it,” said Gilles Bissonnette, Legal Director of the ACLU-NH. “As the report demonstrates, in jailing people who are unable to pay fines, the government is spending more money than the individual owed in the first place.”

“These practices are legally prohibited, morally questionable, and financially unsound. Nevertheless, they appear to be alive and well in New Hampshire,” added Bissonnette.

Groups Sue Federal Government Over Failure To Provide Legal Representation For Children Placed Into Deportation Proceedings

Gavel

Editor’s Note: This post comes from the American Immigration Council 

Washington D.C. – The American Civil Liberties Union, American Immigration Council, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Public Counsel, and K&L Gates LLP today Immigration Policy Center logofiled a nationwide class-action lawsuit on behalf of thousands of children who are challenging the federal government’s failure to provide them with legal representation as it carries out deportation hearings against them.

Each year, the government initiates immigration court proceedings against thousands of children. Some of these youth grew up in the United States and have lived in the country for years, and many have fled violence and persecution in their home countries. The Obama Administration even recently called an influx of children coming across the Southern border a “humanitarian situation.” And yet, thousands of children required to appear in immigration court each year do so without an attorney. This case seeks to remedy this unacceptable practice.

“If we believe in due process for children in our country, then we cannot abandon them when they face deportation in our immigration courts,” said Ahilan Arulanantham, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project and the ACLU Foundation of Southern California. “The government pays for a trained prosecutor to advocate for the deportation of every child. It is patently unfair to force children to defend themselves alone.”

The plaintiffs in this case include:

  • A 10-year-old boy, his 13-year-old brother, and 15-year-old sister from El Salvador, whose father was murdered in front of their eyes. The father was targeted because he and the mother ran a rehabilitation center for people trying to leave gangs.
  • A 14-year-old girl who had been living with her grandparents, but was forced to flee El Salvador after being threatened and then attacked by gang members.
  • A 15-year-old boy who was abandoned and abused in Guatemala, and came to the United States without any family or friends.
  • A 16-year-old boy born in Mexico who has lived here since he was 1 year old and has had lawful status since June 2010.
  • A 16-year-old boy with limited communication skills and special education issues who escaped brutal violence exacted on his family in Honduras, and who has lived in Southern California since he was 8 years old.
  • A 17-year-old boy who fled gang violence and recruitment in Guatemala and now lives with his lawful permanent resident father in Los Angeles.

All are scheduled to appear at deportation hearings without any legal representation and face a very real risk of being sent back into the perilous circumstances they left.

While the Obama Administration recently announced a limited program to provide legal assistance to some youth facing deportation hearings, this proposal does not come close to meeting the urgent need for legal representation for all children whom the government wants to deport. And there is no guarantee that additional funding proposed by the administration yesterday will materialize or meet the overwhelming need. In the meantime, children continue to appear alone in court every day.

“While our law firm, and others around the country, provide free legal services to children facing the injustice of appearing alone in court, we can help only a small fraction of the children in need,” said Theo Angelis, a partner at K&L Gates LLP.

Kristen Jackson, senior staff attorney with Public Counsel, a not-for-profit law firm that works with immigrant children, added, “Each day, we are contacted by children in desperate need of lawyers to advocate for them in their deportation proceedings. Pro bono efforts have been valiant, but they will never fully meet the increasing and complex needs these children present. The time has come for our government to recognize our Constitution’s promise of fairness and its duty to give these children a real voice in court.”

The complaint charges the U.S. Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Department of Health and Human Services, Executive Office for Immigration Review, and Office of Refugee Resettlement with violating the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause and the Immigration and Nationality Act’s provisions requiring a “full and fair hearing” before an immigration judge. It seeks to require the government to provide children with legal representation in their deportation hearings.

“Deportation carries serious consequences for children, whether it is return to a country they fled because of violence and persecution or being separated from their homes and families. Yet children are forced into immigration court without representation – a basic protection most would assume is required whenever someone’s liberty is at stake. Requiring children to fight against deportation without a lawyer is incompatible with American values of due process and justice for all,” said Beth Werlin, deputy legal director for the American Immigration Council.

“It is simply unacceptable that children are forced to stand alone before an immigration judge, pitted against trained attorneys from the federal government,” said Matt Adams, legal director for Northwest Immigrant Rights Project. “Any notion of justice or fair play requires that these children be provided legal representation.”

The case, J.E.F.M. v. Holder, was filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle, Wash.

  • The Complaint is available at: http://legalactioncenter.org/sites/default/files/Counsel%20Complaint.pdf

More information about this case is available here.

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