Voter Database Off the Table for New Hampshire Lawsuit

(Photo via New Hampshire Secretary of State)

CONCORD, N.H. (CN) – New Hampshire’s voter database is off limits to Democrats challenging voter-identification requirements, the state’s highest court ruled Thursday.

Distinguishing the records here from less intrusive voter checklists, the 10-page ruling emphasizes that “the database contains substantially more personal information” about New Hampshire voters.

In addition to birthdates and birth places, the database reveals naturalization details, voting history and military affiliation, among other details.

Judge Charles Temple had ordered the database turned over to a group of challengers led by the New Hampshire Democratic Party and the state’s League of Women Voters, but the six-justice New Hampshire Supreme Court vacated that decision Thursday.

“We conclude that the database is exempt from disclosure by statute, and we therefore vacate the trial court’s order,” Chief Justice Robert Lynn wrote for the unanimous court.

Democrats had sought access to the database during discovery in a lawsuit over Senate Bill 3, a 2017 law that enacted stricter residency requirements for people registering to vote. Because the database can establish the voting patterns of same-day voters, the Democrats said it would support their argument about how voter ID would burden certain groups of people.

After Judge Temple ordered the database released, New Hampshire’s Republican-controlled Legislature amended state law to prevent the release of the database’s “highly confidential information” in any subpoena or civil discovery request. 

Aside from voter history, the database also includes the last four digits of voters’ Social Security numbers or full drivers’ license numbers for those without Social Security numbers.

On Thursday, the Democrats failed to sway the court that legislative changes should not be applied retroactively. 

“As we have frequently had occasion to observe, subject only to constitutional limitations, when the legislature disagrees with a judicial decision, it is at liberty to change the law through statutory enactment,” Lynn wrote.

The Supreme Court found Thursday thatJudge Temple’s order did not give plaintiffs a “vested” right to the database, and that the Democrats failed to support their argument that “a statute that adversely affects a person’s substantive rights may not be allied retroactively.”  

“Indeed, given the facts that the decision was a non-final discovery order that was subject to revision by the trial court within its sound discretion at any time prior to final judgment,” Lynn wrote, “it is clear that, at most, the plaintiffs had a mere expectation” that they would access the database.

Lynn also declined to credit the notion that courts can “refuse to enforce a duly enacted legislative directive merely because doing so would make it more difficult for the plaintiffs to pursue a challenge to another law enacted by the legislature.”

“To the extent the plaintiffs suggest that the legislature acted with a nefarious motive in enacting the 2018 amendment, such motivation ‘is not a recognized basis for declaring a statute unconstitutional,’” Lynn added.

Despite the voter-ID law being in force during the November election, the New Hampshire Legislature is now controlled by Democrats who are pursuing several bills to reverse the state’s voter-ID law.

A trial on the case meanwhile is set to begin later this year.  The New Hampshire Democratic Party did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.

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