Derry Poll Worker Terminated for Alleged ‘Electioneering’

While the termination of a Derry poll worker at the end of October by Renee Routhier, head of the Supervisors of the Checklist, has garnered national attention, Routhier and others connected with the town said this week that there were other issues in addition to the worker’s saying “God bless you” to voters.

Ruth Provencal was terminated over allegations that she violated New Hampshire RSA 659:44A, which states, “No election officer shall electioneer while in the performance of his duties.” In the RSA, “electioneering” is defined as “acting in a way to influence the vote of a voter.” Some media sources have reported that she was terminated for saying “God bless you.”

Immediately following the election, Routhier declined comment on the matter. But on Monday of this week she said, “I am not at liberty to state the reasons. She was asked not to return because of possible ‘electioneering,’ which is a misdemeanor.”

But Routhier gave more of her perspective in the following statement, also released Monday afternoon: “Ruth Provencal was not ‘fired.’ She was a temporary poll assistant supervisor of the checklist who was invited to assist at the polls. We invited her for four elections and one school district meeting. However, we questioned some of her actions and couldn’t take the chance of running afoul of the anti-electioneering statute. We are elected election officials and are required to verify that the law is followed by any assistant supervisor. Ruth was advised that we must refrain from possible electioneering at the time and at our trainings. We used her one last time to give her a chance as a change back clerk to keep her away from people before they voted. It was not just her saying ‘God bless you for coming out to vote.’ It was her previous possible electioneering (NH RSA 659:44A) and that is a misdemeanor as per the Attorney General. After our consulting with the Attorney General, we decided not to invite her back for this last election.”

The Catholic League of America weighed in with a letter to New Hampshire Secretary of State William Gardner, in which Catholic League president William Donovan pointed out that Provencal made her “God bless you” statements after people came out of the voting booth, so that she did not influence their votes.

Gardner did not return calls for a comment.

Assistant Attorney General Steve Labonte said their office had received little information on the matter. “What we discussed with the election officials,” he said, “was when the Supervisors gave us a call last week. They said they were not asking a ballot clerk to return because they believed she was ‘electioneering’ on the job.”

Ballot clerks should not ask or suggest that the voters vote in any certain way, he said.

Labonte said his department hadn’t taken an official position on the specifics of the matter, but its general position was “To the extent that she should not be electioneering while she’s performing her official duties, we agree.”

Town attorney Brenda Keith said the Town Council and administration would not take a position because they would not involve themselves in an election issue. The Supervisors, Town Clerk and Moderator are the officials charged with running elections in the Town of Derry, she said.

Keith said the Supervisors are maintaining that they did not ask Provencal not to return because of the “God bless you” remarks, but because of other allegations of specific electioneering.

What would be “specific electioneering”? Keith said it would be incidents such as steering someone specifically to the Republican ballot, steering them to the Democratic ballot, or, at a school election, suggesting people not vote for the budget.

“Ms. Routhier and another supervisor checked with the Attorney General’s office before they decided not to invite her back,” Keith said.

Town Council Chairman Mark Osborne said, “I know there has been other reporting on this. My understanding is there is much more to that than just ‘God bless you.’”

Osborne said he was comfortable that there was more to the matter than the “God bless you” issue.

“ I trust our elected officials,” Osborne said. “They have exercised the discretion that’s appropriate in this matter. I trust them more than what’s been reported.”

Town Moderator Margaret Ives said she had not learned of the situation until this past Monday morning. “We have never had this before,” Ives said.

Ives said she is responsible for the election as a whole. She wasn’t certain if Routhier reported to her, but said, “If I saw the Supervisors do something I had a question about, I would talk to her. But I did not know about this.”

Ives said she would research the situation and the RSA Provencal is alleged to have violated.

Provencal did not return a request for comment.