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West Lebanon man charged with voting twice in 2016

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 9/3/2020 9:44:55 PM
Modified: 9/3/2020 9:44:46 PM

LEBANON — A Lebanon man arrested this week is accused of voting twice during the 2016 presidential election under two different names, according to a news release from the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office.

Vincent Marzello, 65, was charged Thursday with a felony count of wrongful voting for casting two ballots in the city of Lebanon during the election, one under the name Marzello and one under the name “Helen Elisabeth Ashley,” the release said.

State prosecutors also brought a civil enforcement action against Marzello, asserting he used a name other than his own to cast a vote — an action that can come with a fine of up to $5,000.

The office did not give details regarding how investigators learned about Marzello’s alleged double vote or details about the investigation Thursday.

No court records had been filed in the state court system, and Marzello could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

Lebanon City Clerk Kristin Kenniston said Marzello has been registered to vote in the city since at least 2012, when he appeared on a “marked checklist” as a registered Republican, though he was listed as undeclared in 2016.

Helen Elisabeth Ashley has been registered as a Democrat in the city since 2016, Kenniston said. However, it’s was not clear on Thursday whether Helen Elisabeth Ashley actually exists.

Neither contact information nor public records such as property records could not be located in Grafton County for anyone with that name.

Kenniston declined to discuss Marzello’s case, but said that voter fraud cases are rare, a view shared by the National Conference of State Legislatures. Researchers from Microsoft, Harvard and several other schools found in a study published last year that only as many as 0.025%  of voters cast double ballots in the 2012 election, “although an audit suggests that the true rate may be lower due to small errors in electronic vote records.”

Still, Kenniston said, New Hampshire has safeguards against double voting, which are built into the registration process.

If a person doesn’t have a photo ID or proof of residence, they may come into the City Clerk’s Office and register to vote by filling out a “qualified voter affidavit,” which includes questions about a person’s mailing address and citizenship.

A potential voter would fill out the affidavit in the presence of a witness in the office, and under threat of perjury if they lie about their identity, Kenniston said.

Though a city employee is present when a voter completes the registration process, Kenniston said voting officials “have to be sensitive,” including questions about gender and appearance.

She said the state Attorney General’s Office is charged with reviewing registrations by affidavits to confirm that there’s no evidence of fraud, but the Ashley case wasn’t followed up on in 2016.

The ballot was first investigated by New Hampshire State Police in 2019, but it wasn’t brought to the state Attorney General’s Office until early 2020, New Hampshire Deputy Attorney General Jane Young said in an interview Thursday.

She said the case remained in the office’s election unit for a “number of months,” until Wednesday, when they met with James O’Keefe, founder of the conservative organization Project Veritas, which often targets media and left-leaning groups in an effort to expose perceived liberal bias.

During the meeting, O’Keefe questioned why the office had not prosecuted the case, prompting a review of the file and a decision to move forward with charges, she said.

She added that, while the office always planned to prosecute the charges, they get a “good volume” of cases and some are not investigated promptly. It’s not unusual for an outside event, such as O’Keefe’s inquiry, to spark a review of a case, Young said.

She said her office has “less than a handful” of additional cases to investigate.

“We’ll try to do these sorts of things faster and better in the future,” she added.

The New Hampshire Democratic Party had recently appointed Helen Elisabeth Ashley as an “inspector of election” after someone using that name applied for the position via an online forum in July, according to Holly Shulman, a party spokeswoman.

Such inspectors serve as ballot clerks or help elderly or illiterate voters at the polls.

In an Aug. 27 letter addressed to Helen Elisabeth Ashley, New Hampshire Democratic Party chairman Ray Buckley suspended the appointment.

“New Hampshire’s Inspectors of Election are held to the highest standards, as they share responsibility for preserving the integrity of our elections,” Buckley wrote. “It has come to our attention that you may be involved in a pending investigation, and as such we are suspending your appointment effective immediately pending resolution of the investigation.”

The news surprised Karen Liot Hill, a Democrat and longtime Lebanon city councilor.

“This is the only incident of voter fraud that I’ve ever been aware of in almost 16 years on City Council,” Liot Hill said. “Voter fraud is not a problem in the city of Lebanon. Voter fraud is not a problem in the state of New Hampshire.”

She said that it’s reassuring to see the Attorney General’s Office prosecute the case because it shows that incidents of fraud get “uncovered and addressed.”

“The voting public can have faith that our elections are secure,” she said.

Recent charges and convictions for voting fraud in New Hampshire include a couple in their 70s who split their time between New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

They voted by absentee ballot in New Hampshire, but then said they forgot that they had done so and voted at the polls in Massachusetts in 2016 as well. Their case was prosecuted in New Hampshire last year.

Anna Merriman can be reached at amerriman@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.




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