N.H. Secretary of State Bill Gardner tapped by Trump for election integrity commission

  • Secretary of State Bill Gardner speaks before electors cast their votes at the State House in Concord in December 2016. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor file

Published: 5/11/2017 11:12:06 AM

President Donald Trump has tapped New Hampshire’s secretary of state to serve on an election integrity commission set to review alleged voter fraud.

Secretary Bill Gardner, a Democrat and the longest-serving secretary of state in the country, was unavailable for comment Thursday morning. He was approached at least a month ago by an administration official to serve on the panel, according to Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan.

Scanlan said Gardner is “agreeable” to joining the commission.

“I think they were looking for some partisan balance on the commission,” said Scanlan, who added that he was unsure what the commitment would entail.

Trump signed the executive order to establish the commission on Thursday afternoon. It is tasked with studying voter registration and processes in federal elections and submitting a report to the president that identifies “vulnerabilities in voting systems and practices ... that could lead to improper voter registrations and improper voting, including fraudulent voter registrations and fraudulent voting.”

The commission is also charged with identifying “laws, rules, policies, activities, strategies and practices” that either enhance or undermine Americans’ confidence in the integrity of federal elections.

Vice President Mike Pence is set to chair the commission, which will include 15 other members, all appointed by Trump. The group will be co-chaired by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a controversial figure who has defended Trump’s past claims of rigged elections.

After losing the presidential contest in New Hampshire, Trump and his advisers made repeated, unsubstantiated claims of “serious voter fraud” in the state.

Trump said, without evidence, that 3 million to 5 million people voted illegally in the 2016 election, in which Democrat Hillary Clinton beat Trump in the popular vote. He and White House adviser Stephen Miller also claimed that Trump lost New Hampshire because voters were bused in from Massachusetts, statements rated “Pants on Fire” by PolitiFact.

Trump has vowed since the start of his administration to investigate voter fraud, a process that has been delayed for months.

Gardner has denied “rampant” fraud in New Hampshire and said the state runs fair elections. After Trump made his first claim about fraud in the state in November, Gardner said he believed New Hampshire voters had confidence in the integrity of the state’s elections.

This session, however, Gardner is backing a bill that seeks to place additional restrictions on same-day voter registration, a move he said is needed to combat public perceptions that fraud exists, according to the Associated Press.

Senate Bill 3 would add a 30-day residency requirement in order for people to vote in New Hampshire and would give local election officials the power to investigate suspected voter fraud. An amended version of the bill currently being considered by a House committee would also give the secretary of state’s office the authority to investigate fraud, a duty that is currently carried out by the state attorney general.

Opponents argue the legislation will discourage students, homeless people and others from voting.

On Thursday, Trump’s commission earned strong rebukes from opponents.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez met news of the commission with harsh criticism.

“Donald Trump shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near the word ‘integrity,’ ” Perez said in a statement. “This commission is nothing but a Trump-sponsored propaganda factory for justifying the GOP’s broader voter suppression efforts and nursing the president’s wounded ego after he lost the popular vote.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire issued a statement Thursday blasting the commission and Gardner’s participation in it.

“This commission, to be co-led by the king of voter suppression Kris Kobach, seems to be a sham,” said ACLU New Hampshire Executive Director Devon Chaffee. “Any commission led by Mr. Kobach likely will be a pretext to enact new restrictions on the right to vote. We are disappointed in the decision of New Hampshire Secretary of State William Gardner to participate in and lend his credibility to what appears to be a kangaroo commission.”

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or amorris@cmonitor.com. Ella Nilsen can be reached at 369-3322, enilsen@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @ella_nilsen.)

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