The secretary of state, our secretary of state, is searching for proof.
A video would be nice. A video showing dozens of people disembarking from a bus last November, moving into a polling station, then returning to the bus. They’re driven away, yukking it up, slapping each other on the back, overjoyed that they just voted, fraudulently, mind you, for Hillary Clinton, or David Ortiz, or Mickey Mouse.
Anyone but Donald Trump.
“I’ve never had a person actually taken a picture of a bus,” Bill Gardner tells me in his office on Tuesday. “We’ve never had someone who has recorded a license plate number on a bus. We’ve had people who have called and come in and said they watched a bus and all these people got out, but they’ve never had any proof of that.”
Gardner is serving his 21st two-year term as secretary of state, making him the face of our sacred first-in-the-nation presidential primary. He’s the one who battled former Vermont governor Howard Dean and former Nevada senator Harry Reid when they attacked our role as the lead-off primary state.
Now, again, he’s facing media inquiries from everywhere, this time following an accusation from the Trump administration that thousands of people were bused in from Massachusetts and exploited our voting laws to sabotage Trump’s White House bid.
Gardner showed me pink sheets of message paper with interview requests from the New York Times, CNN and Fox News.
“I’ll be busy this afternoon,” said Gardner, who’s always put the state’s media first when it comes to accessibility.
Trump himself got the ball rolling on this. It didn’t matter that he’d won the election, making him the 45th president of the United States. He lost New Hampshire to Hillary Clinton by a whisker, prompting him, for some unknown reason, to claim that thousands of voters had been sent here from south of the border to elevate his opponent.
Then, Stephen Miller, Trump’s senior adviser, said this Sunday: “Having worked before on a campaign in New Hampshire, I can tell you that this issue of busing voters into New Hampshire is widely known by anyone who’s worked in New Hampshire politics.”
Several GOP heavyweights told my colleague Ella Nilsen this week that Miller’s claim was untrue. Former attorney general Tom Rath, a longtime Republican consultant, threw some spice on the stew by telling Nilsen, “I don’t know anybody who knows this guy.”
Meanwhile, Gardner usually plays the role of diplomat when dealing with juicy topics. He’s a man of facts, of data, of proof. He stuck to that formula Tuesday when I asked him about Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state whom Gardner had spoken to before Kobach was interviewed on CNN on Sunday.
Kobach took facts he’d gotten from Gardner and used them as a not-too-subtle example of voter fraud in New Hampshire. He noted that nearly 3,000 Granite State voters had had Massachusetts licenses.
“Now some of those are going to be legitimate,” Kobach said, “they’re going to be people who just moved to New Hampshire and hadn’t yet gotten a New Hampshire driver’s license. But many of those will be out-of-state residents who voted in the state.”
Kobach, though, failed to mention that college students in New Hampshire can use their out-of-state driver’s licenses to legally vote here. He said research by the end of the month will reveal how many people voted both here and in another state.
Gardner conceded that due to our voting law, which places a person’s domicile and residence on equal footing, the possibility of fraud exists.
But buses full of double agents, rolling over the Mass./N.H. line in some clandestine manner? For Gardner, he has to see it to believe it, and he’s worried that the perception of voter fraud nationally is fueled by stories like this one.
“It really concerns me and bothers me that half the population believe there is voter fraud,” Gardner told me. “And if people believe there is voter fraud, the value of the ballot is lessened and people don’t go out of their way to vote anymore.”
Gardner was prepared for me. He slapped a recent Boston newspaper onto a table with the headline, “Busloads of Baloney.”
He had charts and graphs and paperwork and research studies, all spread out in front of me, all gathered to show the earnestness and integrity and honor of our first-in-the-nation voting procedure.
He showed me a Harvard-produced study that rated New Hampshire No. 1 among all states in vote count and electoral authorities.
He pointed out that among the 755,000 people who voted in our state, all but 1,124 “either had ID or were personally known to elected officials in their polling place.”
Gardner isn’t sure where this bus thing originated. Maybe, he said, it began when Scott Brown lost to Jeanne Shaheen for a seat in the U.S. Senate in 2014.
“Scott Brown said 100,000 people illegally voted from Massachusetts,” Gardner said. “That could have started it.”
When you’ve been serving this role as long as Gardner, you see a lot of wacky stuff. Like the time in 2008, when presidential candidate Albert Howard demanded a recount after receiving 64 votes, then accused Gardner of counting phony ballots instead of the real ones.
The result: Howard’s supporters posted a video showing Gardner in a white outer space suit, portraying him as an alien invader trying to intimidate those wanting to witness the recount.
In 1980, presidential candidate Lyndon LaRouche questioned the four votes he’d received in New Hampshire, then convinced seniors with memory problems to sign affidavits stating they’d voted for him, thus adding to his vote total in an attempt to tarnish Gardner’s recount.
“They were trying to belittle the process,” Gardner said.
This time, it’s about buses. Gardner steered clear of comments about Trump or anyone else in his administration. He held his cards close to his vest when it came to saying anything negative about Miller, who has yet to provide a nugget of evidence to support his claim.
He says if you’ve got something, show him. His office door at the State House is always open.
But until someone comes forward with proof that our state’s voting procedure was compromised on Nov. 8, 2016, Gardner remains proud of a tradition we’ve become famous for every four years.
“Everyone has ways to take pictures and there is nothing,” Gardner said. “We have nothing. Show me something.”