As a debate over New Hampshire election laws intensifies in the Legislature, the state’s voting practices are being thrust into the national spotlight.
New Hampshire’s political elite have defended the voting process while slamming new claims of widespread voter fraud in the Granite State by Stephen Miller, senior adviser to President Donald Trump.
“I think it’s irresponsible,” said Tom Rath, the former attorney general and longtime Republican political consultant, “I don’t know what Miller knows that I don’t.”
Rath and other veteran New Hampshire Republicans, including Concord businessman and Republican National Committee member Steve Duprey and former N.H. GOP chairman Fergus Cullen widely panned Miller’s comments in a post on social media this weekend.
“The president has been misinformed,” Duprey said in an interview Monday. “His advisers that are repeating the claim are misinformed.”
While Rath and Duprey cite the fervent debate going on at the New Hampshire Legislature over same-day voter registration and domicile, they say those things cannot be equated to fraud.
“There’s no voter fraud as we think of voter fraud,” Duprey said, referring to practices like busing in voters, stuffing ballot boxes or falsely using dead people’s names to vote. “The votes are all counted and accurately counted.”
After reports surfaced of President Trump claiming he had lost the November election in New Hampshire due to “thousands” of people being bused across the border from Massachusetts and casting ballots illegally, Miller took to Sunday talk shows to further repeat the widely debunked claim.
“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,” Miller said. “It’s very real; it’s very serious.”
Miller repeatedly declined to provide evidence for his claim – which has been proven untrue by fact-checkers for PolitiFact and the Washington Post.
For his talk of being familiar with New Hampshire campaigns, Miller worked on one for just several weeks.
In 2014, Miller volunteered during the final stretch former Massachusetts senator Scott Brown’s 2014 race against Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.
“Steve Miller reached out to us to ask if he could be an assistant,” said Ryan Williams, a former senior campaign adviser to Brown. “He was in New Hampshire for several weeks at the end of the campaign.”
Miller specifically worked on messaging around immigration and the Ebola outbreak that was happening at the time, Williams recalled.
“He is a very intelligent and intense person,” Williams said. “He certainly has a strong set of views; he’s a true believer in his cause.”
Many of the same messages that Miller was working on in 2014 related to immigration are now an issue in Trump’s presidency, Williams added.
Rath and Duprey say Miller is far from well-known in the New Hampshire political sphere.
“I’ve been doing this a long time, and everybody knows everybody,” Rath said. “I don’t know anybody who knows this guy.”
Rath said he has never seen a White House malign New Hampshire elections like the Trump administration has over the past few months.
“It makes no sense, given the results of the election,” he said, pointing to the fact that a Republican won the governor’s seat for the first time in more than a decade.
“Words have consequences.” Election law debate
Already a hot topic at the New Hampshire State House this session, election law is now getting even more attention.
Gov. Chris Sununu did not weigh in on the new allegations until Monday. As a guest on New Hampshire Public Radio, he conceded there is no evidence of widespread fraud but said he has concerns over the state’s current voting laws.
“We have a lot of ambiguity in our voter laws, I think there’s a lot of areas where we can strengthen and more clearly define the laws so it’s a clean process, so to speak,” Sununu said.
Before the November election, Sununu himself claimed Democrats were “busing” voters in from Massachusetts. He later walked the claim back, saying it was a figure of speech that referred to political campaign workers who live and work in New Hampshire for months voting in elections here, rather than their home states.
A number of bills filed this session would tighten the definition of who is a considered a state resident.
“We have folks that come into this state, whether they’re working on campaigns or they come in very temporarily, and can register to vote,” Sununu said. “It is actually legal to do that. It isn’t fraud because our laws allow that.”
Miller’s recent comments and the ensuing debate on social media brought up old allegations of voter fraud by conservative activist group Project Veritas.
That group, which has been dogged by lawsuits, regularly sets up sting operations in New Hampshire and other state elections where its operatives pose as “fraudulent” voters coming from out of state to vote in state elections.
In 2012, the attorney general’s office investigated members of the group after they intentionally posed as deceased people in Nashua and asked for ballots using false names.
“It’s against the law to steal, so if you go out and steal and then put up a video and say, ‘Look, I stole something,’ that’s a crime,” said then-Nashua City Clerk Paul Bergeron, according to a 2012 Nashua Patch article. “What these people did was a crime.”
The group was also active during the primary, sending phony voters to the polls to try to vote without their IDs (which is technically legal under New Hampshire law as long as they fill out a signed affidavit).
Duprey has long been an advocate of changing the state’s same-day registration to the federal “motor voter” system. He said he doesn’t believe out-of-state college students and campaign workers should be allowed to vote in New Hampshire elections.
“Our view is that you should have some nexus to a state,” Duprey said. “Whatever we do, we need to define what the difference is between residency and domicile.”
(Ella Nilsen can be reached at 369-3322, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter