Public service or federal crime?
That's for the state Attorney General's office to decide now, after more than 10 minutes of video footage released by conservative activist James O'Keefe has stirred controversy – and not necessarily the kind O'Keefe intended.
The footage includes shots taken at several New Hampshire polling sites, including some in Nashua, on Jan. 10 during which phony voters went undercover to ask for ballots for recently deceased people in those wards.
In one instance a poll worker in a Manchester ward realized the undercover imposter was not who he said he was because she knew the dead person in question. That incident was reported in the Boston Herald.
Nashua City Clerk Paul Bergeron is outraged, and noted that in addition to the legal ramifications, what these filmmakers did in that instance is morally and ethically wrong.
"Her husband just died 10 days ago," said Bergeron, referring to an interview in today's Boston Herald with Rachel Groux of Manchester, widow of Roger Groux, who died December 31.
"She's appalled that his name is being used in this manner, and I sympathize. If there is any civil satisfaction these families can get, I hope they proceed and file suit against the filmmakers," Bergeron said.
O'Keefe, founder of Project Veritas, told the Herald in their original story that he did it to expose New Hampshire's lax system of checks and balances.
“It shows the integrity of the elections process is severely compromised,” O'Keefe said.
Reaction from New Hampshire election officials was quite different, based in part on the state's wiretapping and eavesdropping statutes, which among other things, specify that it is illegal to record an election official without permission.
Bergeron said this morning he believes the filmmakers may have committed a federal crime, as well, if they crossed state lines to record the undercover video, and should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
"It's against the law to steal, so if you go out and steal and then put up a video and say, 'Look, I stole something,' that's a crime. What these people did was a crime; they stole a person's identity and used it to ty to obtain a ballot that would be used in a state election," said Bergeron.
"They recorded it without election officials' knowledge, which apears to be a violation of our New Hampshire wiretapping codes, and some of these are out of state residents, so I don't know if violations of wiretapping or ID theft could hold up in court, but if they crossed state lines to commit these crimes, it may be a federal crime as well. This is serious; we won't tolerate voter fraud, regardless of what the intent might be," Bergeron said.
He noted that under New Hampshire's state Constitution, any resident who commits voter fraud can permanently lose their right to vote.
"If these are New Hampshire residents they should lose their right to vote forever, in addition to fines or imprisonment. I take it seriously, and people shouldn't dismiss this as just a harmless stunt; it's not," Bergeron said.
The Secretary of State's office said this morning that the complaint against Project Veritas is being handled by the state Attorney General's office.
Meanwhile, House Speaker Bill O'Brien told the Union Leader that the undercover exposé proves that there are real "flaws in the system," and told the Union Leader, "I’m afraid — I hope it doesn’t come down to this — it challenges our first-in-the-nation primary position,” O’Brien said.
O'Keefe attended the annual Nashua Republicans Steak Out on Sept. 18 as keynote speaker, along with conservative commentator Andrew Breitbart.
In June, Gov. John Lynch vetoed proposed legislation, Senate Bill 129 ,that would have required voters to present a photo ID before voting. Bergeron said he supported a revision of that legislation that came out of a House study committee since then, for which he provided input.
"O'Brien's intervention killed that draft," Bergeron said. "Our objection to the initial legislation was that there were way too many holes in it, and that bill added a whole new layer of problems."
Bergeron conceded that while there may be ways to improve the process, what happened at the polls Tuesday is not the way to go about it.
What do you think of this Election Day sting?