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Gardner: Attacks obscure voter facts

New Hampshire Union Leader

September 09. 2017 10:51PM
New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner (File photo)

CONCORD - Through 11 presidential elections and 10 governors, New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner is used to finding himself in bare-knuckle political brawls.

But renewed accusations of voter fraud last week may lead to his toughest battle yet, just as Gardner prepares to welcome to the state on Tuesday President Donald Trump's Election Integrity Commission.

In an interview Friday, Gardner said months of "slash and burn" tactical attacks against this group raise doubts whether it can come up with a report on the best way forward that the entire country can embrace.

"I have said from the beginning I want to have the facts to speak for themselves; I always thought we would get the facts but I am not sure now," Gardner said.

"There have been so many efforts to discredit the work of this commission before it could get off the ground. Can we all come together? I'm not sure anymore."

"It's been a week for the books," Gardner said.

This commission meeting will come four days after its vice chairman starkly declared that voter fraud "stole" for Democrats the outcome of close New Hampshire races in 2016.

"For years, the mainstream media has ignored the problem of voter fraud and belittled those of us who are trying to do something about it. And when secretaries of state like me identify cases of fraud, we are told that the number of incidents of voter fraud is too insignificant to matter," wrote Vice Chairman Kris Kobach, Kansas secretary of state, in a commentary for conservative Breibart News.

"Now, however, facts have come to light that indicate that a pivotal, close election was likely changed through voter fraud on November 8, 2016: New Hampshire's U.S. Senate Seat, and perhaps also New Hampshire's four electoral college votes in the presidential election."

This latest imbroglio stems from an interim report Gardner prepared for House Speaker Shawn Jasper, R-Hudson, that Gardner freely admits is a non-conclusive set of numbers about voters who may be fraudulent or could all be completely valid.

And late last week, Gardner was warned by the all-Democratic congressional delegation to step down from Trump's commission or else.

"Secretary Gardner's association with this partisan commission risks tarnishing his long legacy of fighting for the New Hampshire Primary and promoting voter participation, and it would be in keeping with his distinguished record to immediately relinquish any role with this commission," said U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, both D-N.H.

I'm not leaving

Gardner pointed out this wasn't the first time they made that demand and he again refused, calling it "hypocritical."

Neither Hassan nor Shaheen would leave a Senate committee simply due to a dispute with its leadership, he said.

"I didn't go then and I'm not going now," Gardner said. "They should know better than to ask that of me."

This mild-mannered, bespectacled man will calmly and objectively present to the commission at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics meeting his experts like University of New Hampshire pollster Andy Smith and election voting equipment/turnout expert Kimball Brace.

He also promises to offer reams of historical context about voting practices like the fact that during the 1950s anyone wanting to vote in New Hampshire had to have lived here for six months and have paid a poll tax.

Consider what former Vermont Gov. and 2004 presidential contender Howard Dean tweeted about Gardner late Friday.

"Under no circumstances should NH be first in the nation primary if Gardiner (sic) remains on the Voter Suppression committee @TomPerez," Dean wrote, ending with the Twitter account of the national Democratic Chairman.

Former New Hampshire Democratic National Committeeman Peter Burling, a frequent Gardner critic, agreed.

"Boy, Gardner doesn't get it. The only reason he was asked to serve on this commission was ex officio," Burling said.

"He parlayed his elected office into a prominent role on a fraudulent voter suppression effort. New Hampshire voters are not being served by his activity. He should go. Now."

More facts needed

Gardner said Kobach and allies did make unsubstantiated claims by saying voter fraud tipped the outcome just because more than 5,500 showed out-of-state driver's licenses to vote and had not in the nine months since gotten a New Hampshire license.

"That's his opinion but it's not my opinion," Gardner said of Kobach's commentary.

The report didn't stun the legislative leader who asked for it.

"It doesn't surprise me, it doesn't shock me, it did confirm what I thought we would find and that is it's too easy for people to vote here who should not be allowed to," said House Speaker Shawn Jasper, R-Hudson, who requested Gardner and Safety Commissioner John Barthelmes prepare this analysis.

New Hampshire state law allows college students and temporary residents to show out-of-state driver's licenses to vote.

"These are not fraudulent voters; they live in New Hampshire and are entitled to vote here," said Gilles Bissonnette, legal director for the New Hampshire Citizen Liberties Union.

Kobach's home state runs the cross check program that has had so many false positives that three states have left it.

And what about the more than 900 that either didn't give a valid address before voting or did not return a postcard sent to their home to verify one?

Could many of these be legitimate voters who refused to show a Voter ID at the polls so they certainly aren't about to return a postcard from the government seeking personal election information?

"Those numbers are not proof that anyone who is among those names voted fraudulently but Kobach could be right," Gardner said.

"The other side is saying that none of them are fraudulent and they could be right.

"I don't have the answer; what I do know is I don't have proof."

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