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At voter panel meeting, Gardner takes aim at vice-chair’s claims of N.H. fraud

  • New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner (center) listens intently to a panelist discuss Americans' lack of confidence in an honest election process 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 staff

  • Commission co-chairman and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach takes part in 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 staff

  • New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner (right) turns toward Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach as Kobach talks about the column 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 staff

  • New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner (right) responds to Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (left) after Kobach talked 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 staff

  • The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity holds a meeting 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 staff

  • Former Missouri secretary of state Jason Kander, founder of “Let America Vote,” speaks to protesters gathered outside Saint Anselm College in Manchester on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017. Kander and others were protesting a meeting of the Trump administration’s commission on voter fraud, which they argue is designed to suppress voting. AP

  • Protesters gather on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017, at Saint Anselm College in Manchester ahead of a daylong meeting of the Trump administration’s election integrity commission. They argue the commission, which is tasked with investigating voter fraud, is a sham. Signs reading “Vote Free or Die” played off New Hampshire’s motto: “Live Free or Die.” (AP Photo/Holly Ramer) AP



Monitor staff
Wednesday, September 13, 2017

A presidential commission meeting turned testy Tuesday as two sitting secretaries of state – including New Hampshire’s – pushed back against charges of voter fraud in the Granite State made by the commission’s vice chairman.

In remarks before a panel at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, secretaries of State Bill Gardner of New Hampshire, and Matthew Dunlap of Maine, challenged Vice Chairman Kris Kobach, who last week penned a column claiming that New Hampshire’s U.S. Senate race in 2016 “was likely changed through voter fraud.”

Gardner took aim at the charge, defending the integrity of Granite State elections.

“The problem that has occurred because of what you wrote is ... the question of whether our election as we have recorded it is real and valid,” he said. “And it is real and valid.”

Dunlap followed up, calling Kobach’s charge a “reckless statement to make,” and urged the commission to steer away from broad allegations.

The comments came at the second meeting of the Presidential Commission on Election Integrity, a group formed in May by President Donald Trump and tasked with assessing U.S. voting systems. The six-hour event was billed as an opportunity to hear from guest panelists on voter participation levels and the voting process.

Days ahead of the meeting, the conservative news website Breitbart published an opinion article by Kobach claiming that fraud “appears” to have changed the Senate race outcome, causing a local firestorm that spilled over into Tuesday’s event.

The article used figures released by the Secretary of State’s office and the Department of Safety that showed 5,313 people who registered to vote on Election Day in 2016 with out-of-state licenses had not applied for new licenses by Aug. 31 of this year.

Kobach seized on the numbers to suggest that those votes could have been illegal and could have swayed the Senate election, which Democrat Maggie Hassan won by a margin of 1,017 votes. But Democrats and election experts said the figures do not demonstrate voter fraud and the voters using out-of-state licenses – which data show are concentrated in college towns – are likely college students domiciled in New Hampshire but carrying different licenses.

New Hampshire voting law does not require people to be residents or to present driver’s licenses to vote; but rather that they have a domicile, defined as a place “more than any other place” that a person maintains a presence.

Dunlap circled on that distinction.

“There’s utterly no connectivity between motor vehicle law and election law,” he said.

He threw in a visual metaphor to drive home the point:

“Making this equation that somehow people not updating their driver’s license is an indicator of voter fraud would be almost as absurd as saying if you have cash in your wallet, then that’s proof that you robbed a bank,” he said.

And Gardner drew a distinction between the figures his office released on out-of-state licenses released and the conclusions of fraud Kobach drew from them.

“Those numbers are out there,” he said. “But those facts don’t create proof. There’s another step – there’s a second step – to create the proof.”

When discussing the column with the panel, Kobach took a cautious approach. He referenced his use of the word “appears,” adding “I’m still wondering (if) it was the right word.”

And he acknowledged that the article did not take into account the difference between voters who are domiciled and voters who are residents, stating that the 800-word limit on the article prevented much legal nuance.

But Kobach stood by the overall conclusions in the article. He called New Hampshire’s election results a “matter of settled law,” but said that the numbers are “obviously subject to concern” and referencing “anecdotal” evidence that people cross the border into New Hampshire to vote.

“This problem of people possibly coming to New Hampshire to vote but with no intention to maintain a domicile in the state is something – not something I thought of, but something that legislators ... from New Hampshire have been dealing with this issue for years,” he said.

Gardner and other New Hampshire officials previously refuted the claim of non-domiciled voters coming to the Granite State to vote when it was made by members of the Trump administration earlier this year.

Wednesday’s meeting featured a range of speakers, from data security expert Harri Hursti, who pointed to vulnerabilities of voting machines to hacking attacks over USB devices, to John Lott, founder of the right-leaning Crime Prevention Research Center, who proposed employing the National Instant Criminal Background Check System at polls to verify voters.

Among the panelists was Andrew Smith, associate professor of political science and director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, who appeared to discuss New Hampshire’s historically high turnout figures. Pointing to polling, he attributed the enthusiasm to “high trust” in the voting process.

The event also attracted a protest. Several dozen demonstrators gathered outside in the morning, voicing opposition to what they called an effort by the commission to gin up voter fraud claims and justify legislative changes to tighten requirements.

And Democrats – many of whom had called on Gardner, a Democrat, to step down from the commission following the Breitbart article – denounced the event altogether, with critical statements flying from congressional representatives and party leaders.

But speaking to the panel on the headline-grabbing claims in Kobach’s article, Gardner said he hoped that the commission could adhere to the mission described at the outset by Vice President Mike Pence, the panel’s chairman.

“The first couple meetings that we had,” he said, “the chairman of the commission (Mike Pence) made it very clear to us that we should work on a consensus, and that we work in a way that we don’t have pre-conceived, pre-ordained ideas about what the facts are going to turn out to be. We’re going to use the facts, search out the truth.”

“And that is something that we all need to stay focused on,” he said.