N.H. Republicans seek voter fraud investigation as Democrats charge hypocrisy
The New Hampshire Republican Party asked Attorney General Joe Foster yesterday to investigate “potential incidents of voter fraud” involving campaign workers who registered to vote last year while staying at the home of a Democratic state senator, then left the state after the election.
Democrats quickly accused the GOP of hypocrisy, saying both Republican and Democratic staffers have voted while living and working in New Hampshire and that campaign workers often stay at a supporter’s home.
State law requires voters to establish “domicile,” which University of New Hampshire School of Law professor John Greabe described yesterday as an “inherently mushy and highly subjective standard.”
Under state law, domicile is “that one place where a person, more than any other place, has established a physical presence and manifests an intent to maintain a single continuous presence for domestic, social, and civil purposes relevant to participating in democratic self-government.”
There is no requirement that someone live in New Hampshire for a minimum time before registering to vote, and no requirement that voters remain in the state for a set period after the election.
The decisive factor is a person’s intent, and “that is probably a tough thing to prove,” said Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan.
Foster said yesterday he received state GOP Chairwoman Jennifer Horn’s letter, but declined to comment on it.
Spotlight on campaign staff
Horn’s request for an investigation came after WMUR reported Tuesday that eight people were registered to vote in 2012 at the Portsmouth home of Democratic Sen. Martha Fuller Clark.
Fuller Clark, who is first vice chairwoman of the state Democratic Party, said four of those eight are herself, her husband, a son currently studying overseas and a goddaughter studying at UNH. Two were campaign workers who lived there in 2008, but have since moved away and didn’t vote in 2012, she said.
The other two voters, she said, worked for President Obama’s re-election campaign last year and stayed at the house from last summer until the end of 2012. One, she said, hoped to find a job here after the election but was unsuccessful.
“Our children are away, we have an apartment on the top floor and some empty bedrooms and I’m always happy to make them available to young people who are here on short- or long-term projects,” Fuller Clark said.
After WMUR aired its report, Horn sent a letter to Foster, a former Democratic state senator who became attorney general in May, accusing Fuller Clark of “allowing her home address to be used as a sanctuary for voter fraud” and saying the campaign workers clearly did not intend to maintain a presence in New Hampshire.
“Her behavior undermines public confidence in the integrity of our elections and raises very serious questions about the campaign tactics used by New Hampshire Democrats,” Horn wrote.
Horn requested an investigation, and also asked Foster to recuse himself from that investigation because he “could not impartially investigate” Fuller Clark, since both are Democrats and they served in the Senate together.
While he declined to comment on the request for an investigation, Foster did say he would not recuse himself.
“I’m not going to recuse myself just because I’ve served with a person who now serves in the Legislature,” Foster said, “or, for that matter, other offices.”
Fuller Clark said there’s nothing to investigate.
“Whatever was going on here was completely proper, correct and lawful,” she said.
The New Hampshire Democratic Party said it’s not uncommon to vote while working for a political campaign here, and said several staffers did so last year while working for Republicans, including presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
“If they move here for a job and they live here, they have an absolute right to vote here,” said Democratic Party spokesman Harrell Kirstein. “People on both sides of the aisle who have moved here and worked here and are domiciled here have voted here for years and years and years, and that’s why this has never been an issue before.”
Ryan Williams, spokesman for the state GOP, said the party feels the Fuller Clark case is “particularly egregious,” since staffers were staying at her house rather than, for example, renting their own apartments.
“We feel the law should be enforced for everybody, whether they’re Democrats, Republicans or independents,” Williams said.
It’s not unusual for staffers to stay with a local supporter while working on a campaign, said Kathy Sullivan, a former Democratic Party chairwoman and current member of the Democratic National Committee.
“A lot of these people don’t make a lot of money. . . . I’ve had people live with me for, like, eight months,” she said.
But several longtime Republican strategists said they draw a distinction between staffers who move to New Hampshire for a month or two and intend to leave, and people who come here for an extended time and may seek to stay after the election.
“The right to vote is sacred. But when that right is debased and abused this way, I think it hurts democracy overall,” said Steve Duprey, a former state party chairman and current member of the Republican National Committee.
Scanlan, the deputy secretary of state, called the domicile issue a “fuzzy” one.
“Each definition of domicile is unique to the individual that’s involved,” he said, “and that’s why it’s really difficult to have a cut-and-dried definition of whether a person is domiciled in a place or not.”
An ongoing battle
This isn’t the first time Democrats and Republicans have clashed over voter registration.
In 2012, when they had a veto-proof majority in the Legislature, Republicans changed the state’s voter registration forms to include a notice that by registering, the voter was “subject to the laws of the state of New Hampshire which apply to all residents, including laws requiring a driver to register a motor vehicle and apply for a New Hampshire’s driver’s license within 60 days of becoming a resident.”
Supporters said it would discourage “drive-by voting” and fraud, and inform voters of their responsibilities as a New Hampshire resident. But the state chapter of the League of Women Voters and the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union challenged the new language in court, arguing it would have a chilling effect on students and other potential voters.
A judge blocked the new forms from being used ahead of the 2012 election, and the case is ongoing. House Democrats tried to remove the new language this year, but their bill died after a standoff with Senate Republicans.
(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or
email@example.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)