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Amid internal tension, Gardner stands by voter fraud commission

  • New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner (right) turns toward Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach as Kobach talks about the article he wrote on a conservative website last week claiming that the 2016 New Hampshire Senate race “was likely changed through voter fraud€ during a meeting of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College in Goffstown on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor file

  • Flanked by Cyrus Gregg (left) and former New Hampshire State Rep. Jim Splaine, New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner shows the Republican and Democratic presidential primary ballots Thursday, Dec. 17, 2015, in Concord, N.H. Gardner announced the date of the Nation's earliest presidential primary as Feb. 9, 2016. AP file



Monitor staff
Thursday, October 12, 2017

Amid a lapse in communication and uncertainty for the future, some Democratic members of President Donald Trump’s voter fraud commission are growing restless.

Nearly a month after the group came to New Hampshire, holding its second meeting at Saint Anselm College, neither Vice Chairman Kris Kobach nor any other commission member has made contact to discuss future plans, Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap told the Huffington Post on Tuesday.

“I don’t know that we’re ever going to meet again, to tell you the truth,” Dunlap said.

But New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner said he doesn’t see a reason for alarm. Speaking Wednesday, Gardner, also a Democrat, said he continues to support the goals of the commission, even if he too has not received communication from any of its members.

“I haven’t had any communications, but I don’t have any expectations,” he said.

And despite the radio silence, Gardner plans to follow through on one of the commission’s most high-profile – and controversial – requests: providing New Hampshire’s voter checklists to the body for review. The lists, which include voters’ names, party affiliation and street addresses, are being prepared by the Attorney General’s office, to be released in a number of days according to Gardner.

“You can’t always judge a book by its cover, and you can’t always judge the end result by the beginning,” Gardner said. “So this is a work in progress in my opinion.”

The drop in correspondence comes during a stretch in which the commission appears to still be searching for its footing. Created in May and officially chaired by Vice President Mike Pence, the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity is tasked with examining the registration and voting processes used across the United States, with an aim to seeing which practices undermine the confidence of American voters.

But the commission attracted controversy from the beginning. In an explosive claim shortly after the election, Trump said three to five million votes in 2016 were fraudulently cast. Trump has yet to offer any evidence for his claim, and voting experts point to research indicating that documented cases of voting fraud are extremely rare.

Democrats have called the commission a ploy to justify Trump’s claim.

Republicans and supporters of the commission, in contrast, say the commission provides a long-overdue opportunity to examine vulnerabilities in the security of national polling stations, and prescribe solutions.

Dunlap’s comments Tuesday appeared set to fan those partisan flames. In his interview, he criticized the commission’s decision to request voter registration information from each state, which he said was not agreed to by all commission members. And he criticized a recently surfaced email by another member of the commission, Hans von Spakovsky, who had complained to Kobach about the presence of Democrats on the panel.

Speaking to the Monitor on Wednesday, Dunlap confirmed his previous comments, adding that since the Huffington Post story was published, he has still yet to be contacted by a member of the commission. Alan King, a fellow Democrat on the commission, also told the website that no contact had been made.

A spokesperson for the commission was not immediately available to comment.

Dunlap said Wednesday he didn’t seek out the reporter who asked him questions, and hinted that the conclusions drawn may have been overblown, but he stood by his answers nonetheless.

“In terms of how my comments play, frankly I don’t care,” he said. “I’ve answered questions from the perspective that I have. To not answer those questions – or to answer them in a different way that would be softer – I think would be dishonest.”

As far as whether the commission will continue its work, “I think it’s up to them,” Dunlap said.

In some ways, Dunlap and Gardner have a shared experience. Amid a steady furor on the left, the two have come under steady fire from their own party.

But unlike Dunlap, who said he was prevented by Maine law from sharing his state’s voter rolls, Gardner is planning to release New Hampshire’s marked voter checklists. That’s made him a particular target among New Hampshire Democrats, who have called repeatedly for his resignation from the commission.

Still, Gardner has brushed off any criticism. The intensity comes with the territory of any voting commission, he said. After a similar 2004 commission headed by former president Jimmy Carter and James Baker III recommended requiring photo identification at polling booths, Carter, a Democrat, was excoriated by his party, he said.

“(The commission) had a lot of favorable publicity at the beginning, but at the end, their report was condemned,” he said. “They really tore Carter apart, horrifically.”

To Gardner, who pointed to research noting recently declining levels of trust in the government among young people, the commission’s broader aim of restoring confidence is long-needed.

Even if the basis is ultimately false, if cynicism about the U.S. voting system continues to grow, the country’s democratic system will soon erode, he said.

And though he has personally rejected claims of voter fraud, he maintains that those who feel the same should welcome the existence of an investigatory body.

“Think about this: If this public information that we had, we refused to send, those people that are saying there’s all this voter fraud, they’re just going to have more strength.” he said. “They’re just going to say ‘See, see, what are they afraid of?’

“That’s why I desperately want to be able to get the facts so we can show them to everyone, and say ‘Okay, here they are!’ ” he said. “That’s the only way we are going to get to a point where we can say enough is enough.”

But for now, Gardner said, he’s just waiting for the phone to ring.

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at edewitt@cmonitor.com, or on Twitter at
@edewittNH.)