Windham Residents Complain about Being Removed from Voter Checklist
February 12, 2016
by Barbara O’Brien
Windham resident Wendy Joanis didn’t realize that her daughter’s name had been removed from the voter checklist until she stopped by town hall on Feb. 4 and requested an absentee ballot for the New Hampshire Primary Election. Madelyn Joanis, 19, an out-of-state college student, would not be able to vote in person. An absentee ballot was not what Mrs. Joanis received, however. Instead, she was told by Town Clerk Nicole Bottai that the Joanis family, the three of them old enough to vote, had been expunged from the voter checklist.
When Madelyn’s dad, Michael Joanis, a former school board member, was told what had taken place at town hall, he spoke with two of the supervisors of the checklist, Eileen Mashimo and David Bates. The explanation Joanis said he received was that he and his two family members were removed from the checklist because they had changed residences. Mike Joanis acknowledged that he and his family moved last September, but it was from one residence in Windham to another home in Windham. The Joanis’ never received notification that their right to vote in Windham was in jeopardy, however.
When the Joanis’ moved to their new home, they made arrangements, through the post office, to have their mail forwarded to their new address. To their knowledge, that was done as requested. “My tax bill managed to arrive at my new address,” Mike Joanis commented, as did all his other mail, as far as he was aware.
The status of the voter checklist didn’t actually become an issue until the new owners of the house, previously occupied by the Joanis Family, went to the supervisors of the checklist to register to vote. That, apparently, was the trigger that set off the subsequent complaint.
Mike Joanis said he was told by David Bates that if someone moves into a house previously occupied by a Windham voter, and the new homeowner comes into register as a voter, a 30-day period begins in which the previous homeowner, if still a Windham resident, must come in and re-register under the new address. If the prior homeowner does not respond within the 30-day period, he or she is removed from the voter checklist. This is, apparently, what happened in the Joanis’ case. The notification letter was sent to the Joanis’ old address, stamped with a note saying that the letter was not to be forwarded if the person for whom the letter was intended was not at that address. It was to be returned to the supervisors of the checklist instead. Since they no longer lived at the original address, the Joanis’ never received the three notifications that were mailed to them.
“The post office was not allowed to forward the letters to our new address,” Joanis said. Instead, the letters were returned to the supervisors of the checklist, even though the Joanis’ new address was written on the envelope. According to Joanis, the supervisors never even looked at the returned envelopes, but simply tossed them into a box. Reportedly, Eileen Mashimo told Joanis that there were too many such letters to keep track of them all. As the Joanis’ never responded to the letters they didn’t receive, their names were removed from the voter checklist after the required 30-day period.
“They didn’t even look at the returned mail,” said Mike Joanis. “I don’t know if it’s illegal or not, but it just doesn’t make sense. It certainly doesn’t protect legitimate Windham residents.”
David Bates said it was Joanis who was at fault and that the supervisors of the checklist had done precisely what they were supposed to do. “We weren’t notified that the Joanis’ had moved,” Bates said. “We didn’t know about it until this past week.” In response to Joanis’ comment that he had received his tax bill at his new address, Bates said, “Of course, they received their tax bill. The tax collector is notified by the (Rockingham County) registrar of deeds that a property transfer has occurred.”
Bates explained that the procedure that was followed in the Joanis case is the same as is done with every other such situation in Windham. “It’s just a routine process to keep the checklist up to date,” he said. “The purpose is just to confirm that someone still lives in Windham.” Bates said that envelopes are marked “do not forward” to verify that voters are registered for the correct address. This matches the process followed by the New Hampshire secretary of state, Bates said. “I explained the process to Mr. Joanis,” Bates said, “but he was unrelenting.” “It was kind of a nasty scene that went on for almost an hour. We’re the only ones who actually did what we were supposed to do.”
No longer being on the voter checklist also affected the Joanis’ ability to participate in the recent school district deliberative session; a meeting at which Mike Joanis had planned to put forth a couple of motions pertaining to the proposed budget. When he realized he was no longer on the checklist, Joanis contacted the New Hampshire secretary of state, as well as the state attorney general, to find out if there was any way he could remedy the problem before the beginning of the Feb. 5 deliberative session, scheduled for that very evening. He was told that registration for the deliberative session must be done a minimum of 10 days in advance. Joanis also reported that, according to the attorney general, the supervisors of the checklist had “met the minimum standards of notification” when they issued the letters, even though they never reached the intended recipients. Joanis’ daughter had also planned on participating in the school’s deliberative session, having made a four-hour drive home from college, during the Feb. 5 snowstorm. “We were not even allowed to make the motions we had prepared,” Joanis said.
Although the attorney general told Joanis that there was no justification to reverse the decision of Windham’s supervisors of the checklist, he also said that most such officials, throughout New Hampshire, only initiate removing someone from the checklist after receiving a death notice, notification of a felony having been committed, or a notice from another town stating that a person had registered to vote in that location. As to the extent Windham’s supervisors of the checklist might have gone beyond the state minimum requirements, Joanis said, “When I asked why this was being done, I got no good answer.”
“The process is probably not as uniform across New Hampshire as it should be,” Bates said. According to Bates, the supervisors of the checklist held seven meetings between the time the Joanis’ relocated their residence and the deliberative session; meetings where anyone could have registered to vote. These meetings were advertised in the newspaper as well, Bates said. “We do far more than any supervisors in the past have done to make the process easy for residents to register to vote.”
According to Joanis, the current supervisors of the checklist sent out 1,400 such letters this past fall; approximately 700 of which were returned to town hall. “They’re on a rampage trying to clean up the checklist,” Joanis said, adding that the current supervisors say this task had been neglected for the past 15 years. Apparently, this past year was the first time such letters were issued. Joanis wondered how many of the other residents in the same situation were not even aware of it yet. “The supervisors of the checklist are not protecting the citizens of Windham,” Joanis said. “Why aren’t they allowing these letters to be forwarded?” Joanis asked. “It’s just wrong,” he added. “They are costing me the right to vote.”
Bates said the supervisors are not required to investigate any further when letters are returned. “We don’t scrutinize any of the envelopes,” he said. “We are only required to retain them for our files.” Bates said there are more than 9,000 residents registered to vote in the Town of Windham. “It’s unrealistic to think that we’re monitoring them all,” he said.
Joanis also wondered if he had been targeted in being removed from the voter checklist, because of his recent public comments in opposition to the opinions of certain school board members. He also mentioned that Eileen Mashimo is currently a candidate for school board and appears to be supportive of the two school board members with whom Joanis has had recent disagreements. “It certainly smells funny,” Joanis said. “It’s either maliciousness or ignorance in carrying out their duties. If they can’t handle the job of supervisor of the checklist, they’re not fit to be a school board member or a state representative.”
Supervisor David Bates is also a New Hampshire state representative. “We’re not targeting anyone,” Bates said. “I actually feel bad for Mr. Joanis, but he could have easily prevented this problem if he had just come into town hall and notified us of his change of residence.”
As for Joanis’ allegations that Mashimo was involved in removing his family and him from the voter checklist for personal gain, Bates said, “It’s politically motivated. It’s an attempt to manipulate the upcoming election.” “Mr. Joanis is trying to dream up a conspiracy, a grand scandal. He’s making bizarre claims against us, especially Eileen (Mashimo),” he said. “It’s quite disturbing the way he and his wife are trying to discredit Eileen. It’s quite despicable!”
Joanis also commented that Bates and Mashimo were very much aware that he still lives in Windham, since they both see him routinely at school board meetings. “They could have told me that our name was on the list to be removed,” Joanis said. “They said they didn’t even know that the Joanis family had been removed from the voter checklist,” Joanis stated. “They even seemed surprised when they were told our new address is on the returned envelopes; the ones that were dumped in that box at town hall.”
“It’s ridiculous to say we know everyone that receives a notification,” Bates said, noting that he had never met either Wendy or Madelyn Joanis. He also said he wasn’t aware that the family had moved until Joanis confronted him at town hall last week.
Joanis said that Bates became agitated during their conversation and asked him if he was “going to make a big deal out of this.” “Of course, I am,” Joanis said he told Bates. “It seemed as if his biggest concern was that I was going to go public,” Joanis said.
Bates said he didn’t ask Joanis whether he was going to “go public,” but only responded to Joanis’ threats that he was going to let everyone at the deliberative session, as well as through social media, know about his complaint. Bates said he only indicated that he would respond if Joanis brought forth his allegations.
Joanis noted that an absentee ballot for the Feb. 9 primary election showed up for Madelyn Joanis on Feb. 6, the day after the school district deliberative session. There was no designation on the envelope that the ballot shouldn’t be forwarded, he said.
Going forward, Joanis said he plans to file a written complaint to the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office. He said he also plans to attend an upcoming selectmen’s meeting to inform them of the situation. “I just want to make sure that Windham residents know what’s going on,” Joanis said. In the meantime, Joanis said he and his wife planned to register to vote at the Feb. 9 Presidential Primary. “That won’t be a problem,” Bates said. “They are obviously Windham residents.”