N.H. Republicans say even limited voter fraud cases reason enough to tighten eligibility laws

  • Sen. Andy Sanborn listens during a discussion of a bill in 2012. Monitor file

  • Al Baldasaro is seen during a town hall event held by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in Sandown on Oct. 6, 2016. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor file

  • Hoell

For the Monitor
Published: 5/30/2018 5:08:39 PM

State Republicans maintain that even limited cases of voting irregularities are reason enough to tighten the New Hampshire’s voter eligibility laws, which they describe as “the most lax” in the nation.

“The issue is not supposedly the massive voter fraud,” said state Sen. Regina Birdsell, referencing an extensive review by state officials that found no evidence of widespread voter fraud during the 2016 election.

Birdsell, the Republican chair of the Senate Election Law and Internal Affairs Committee criticized what she called a push by Democrats to loosen the state’s voting laws during the last decade, making them the “most lax election laws in the country.”

State Sen. Andy Sanborn of Bedford, who’s running for Congress in the state’s 1st District, said any instances of voter fraud should be enough to ring the alarm.

“Many people win or lose an election by one, two, or three, or five votes. Our elections in New Hampshire are very tight,” Sanborn said. “So a single case of voter fraud has the ability to change the outcome of an election.”

Conservative firebrand state Rep. Al Baldasaro of Londonderry took it a step further, dismissing the findings by the secretary of state and attorney general’s Office that found fewer than 150 cases of possible fraud during the 2016 election.

“I’m not buying it,” Baldasaro said.

Baldasaro, Birdsell and Sanborn spoke with the Monitor on Wednesday, the day after New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner and a top election law attorney from the state attorney general’s office presented their findings to Ballot Law Commission, the panel that resolves election law disputes.

They found no evidence that out-of-state voters were bused into New Hampshire during the 2016 election to illegally vote in the Granite State and potentially alter the outcome of the election.

And of nearly 95,000 possible matches identified in a multistate voter registration database, all but 142 were eliminated by the secretary of state’s office as potential cases of fraud in New Hampshire. Of those 142 matches, 51 have been sent by Gardner to the attorney general’s office for further investigation and possible prosecution, with the rest pending further review by the secretary.

Suspecting fraud

For the past year and a half, the first-in-the-nation presidential primary state has been in the national spotlight over allegations of voter fraud and voter suppression.

Soon after the 2016 election, President-elect Donald Trump targeted New Hampshire as one of three states with “serious voter fraud.”

Trump trounced Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the all-important Electoral College vote, 306-232, to win the presidency. But he lost the national popular count by nearly 3 million votes to Clinton. And he narrowly lost New Hampshire by less than 1,500 votes.

Trump claimed he lost in New Hampshire because “thousands” of people came by bus to illegally vote against him. He also blamed illegal voting for his loss to Clinton in the national popular vote.

Last year, he created an election integrity commission to investigate his claims. The commission, which included Gardner as a member, met last September in New Hampshire before shutting down at the beginning of this year after legal complications and pushback from numerous states.

Baldasaro, a top Trump supporter, continues to argue that massive voter fraud exists in the state.

He said he’s “seen so many Massachusetts cars” parked outside polling stations in Londonderry.

“I think they missed the boat on it,” he said about the findings from the attorney general and secretary of state’s offices.

Many New Hampshire Republicans have long railed against the state’s same-day voter registration law, saying it allows Democrats to game the system. Weeks before the 2016 election, then-gubernatorial candidate Chris Sununu charged during a radio interview on the popular Howie Carr Show that Democrats were abusing the same-day law, saying “they’re busing them in all over the place.”

But soon after the election, Sununu repeatedly clarified his stance, saying there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud in New Hampshire.

Voting laws

Last year, Sununu signed into law a bill, Senate Bill 3, passed by the GOP-dominated Legislature that tightened voting laws. This year, Republicans in the State House passed another bill, House Bill 1264, which would tighten the state’s voter eligibility standards. Sununu, who had reservations with the bill, sent the measure to the state Supreme Court for a review.

Birdsell, who’s championed both bills, said she doesn’t think Tuesday’s findings weaken her case.

“There are potentially 51 people that are going to be investigated, which means if I understand it correctly, they voted in two places,” she said.

She pointed to Republican state Sen. Harold French’s 17-vote victory over incumbent Democrat Andrew Hosmer in 2016, noting that even limited cases of voter fraud can flip an election,

“And that, to me, is concerning,” she said.

“There’s a need for SB 3 and HB 1264,” Birdsell added. “I firmly believe that these laws need to be in place.”

Like Birdsell, Sanborn said any instances of voter fraud should be eliminated to preserve the integrity of state elections.

“Hearing that there was some voter fraud – although not a lot – continues to show that we need to be vigilant and really make sure that our elections are as accurate as they can possibly be,” he said.

There was a similar message from state Rep. JR Hoell of Dunbarton, who narrowly won re-election in 2016 following a recount.

“I’m glad that we bothered to start looking. We now know that 51 people are violating our election laws and it’s time to tighten those down to make sure this doesn’t continue,” Hoell said.

The 51 cases the secretary of state’s office sent to the attorney general have not been confirmed as voter fraud, merely flagged for investigation.

“In state representative races where many are decided by a couple of votes, every vote matters,” Hoell said.

But the top Democrat in the state Senate wasn’t buying the Republican arguments.

Minority Leader Jeff Woodburn said Republicans are “perpetuating the myth ... instead of acknowledging the fact that we don’t have widespread voter fraud.”

“They’re just blowing through the stop signs because this is the single best way Republicans can keep control of power, by making the process more difficult for ordinary people to participate,” Woodburn charged. “It’s the same old Republican game.”

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