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Looking back at 2017: NH spotlighted in voter fraud debate

New Hampshire Union Leader

December 27. 2017 9:28PM
New Hampshire Secretary of State William Gardner, flanked by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson, defended New Hampshire's election process during the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity at St. Anselm College in September. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER FILE PHOTO)

Editor’s Note: As 2017 comes to a close, the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News take a look back at some of the top stories in a year marked by unspeakable crime, sex scandal, political milestones and business achievements. This is the fourth in a series spotlighting the year’s leading news events.

The dogged pursuit of voter fraud — real or imagined — that might have tipped the scales in New Hampshire in the 2016 presidential election was a dominant and recurring story.

President Donald Trump insists to this day that “people from Massachusetts in buses” were responsible for him losing the Granite State’s four electoral votes to Hillary Clinton. Clinton won New Hampshire by 2,736 votes, or three-tenths of 1 percent.

The New Hampshire result contributed, administration officials admit, to Trump’s creation of the controversial Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, which was charged with finding ways to reduce the number of fraudulent votes cast in America.

One leading Trump figure after another came to the first-in-the-nation primary state in 2017 to further the voter-fraud narrative, which news fact checkers have concluded is false, and which the state’s top election official said he’s seen no credible evidence to confirm.

During a fundraiser for the 603 Alliance, Steve Bannon, Trump’s former political strategist, said: “I think the people of New Hampshire deserve to understand what happened that day. I don’t care if you are a Clinton supporter or a Trump supporter. You can’t play games like that.”

During his fiery 45-minute speech, Bannon offered an unlimited cash reward to anyone who could deliver the proof he said he knows exists that a New Hampshire victory was stolen from Trump.

This bruising debate hit its zenith in September when two top state election officials tangled over its validity.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach authored a stinging commentary about New Hampshire in the Breitbart News, the conservative blog Bannon returned to after leaving the White House.

“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,” Kobach wrote.

When Trump’s voter integrity commission held its first non-Washington meeting in New Hampshire a few days later on Sept. 12, Secretary of State Bill Gardner, a member of the panel, fired back.

“You questioned whether our election as we have recorded it is real and valid,” Gardner said to Kobach, “and it is real and valid.”

Kobach’s evidence came from Gardner, a report he had delivered to legislative leaders that concluded 6,500 people with an out-of-state driver’s license had registered to vote here. And nearly eight months after the election, more than 5,000 still had not registered a car here — as state law requires once somebody becomes a resident.

There’s no law against voting with an out-of-state license, which University of New Hampshire Survey Center Director Andrew Smith explained to the commission at its Sept. 12 meeting at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics.

“We often get complaints that there are out-of-state students voting, but it is legal in New Hampshire to have a Massachusetts driver’s license or Massachusetts plates on your cars, and paying out-of-state tuition to the university, and still be eligible to vote because you are domiciled in New Hampshire, meaning you spend most of your nights here,” Smith said.

“That’s the distinction between domicile and citizenship.”

Democratic Party Chairman Raymond Buckley said this was one of many reasons why Gardner, himself a Democrat, should quit the commission, a call that the state’s two Democratic U.S. senators joined.

“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,” wrote Sens. Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen.

Gardner refused, saying he wouldn’t expect Shaheen or Hassan to quit a Senate committee because they disagreed with the policies or even the tactics of its chairman.

After plenty of debate, the Republican-led Legislature passed SB 3, a law calling on those registering to vote to provide documents within 30 days of that election that show they live where they are voting.

A judge agreed with a challenge from the Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire and blocked penalty provisions of the law.

The Election Integrity Commission’s Sept. 12 New Hampshire meeting was its last in 2017. Ronald Williams II, a senior researcher for the commission, was arrested and charged in mid-October after police said they found child pornography on his cell phone. Trump administration officials confirm he was fired following the arrest.

Commission member David Dunn, a Democrat and former state representative and lobbyist in Arkansas, died on Oct. 16 following heart surgery at age 52.

Meanwhile, more than two dozen state lawsuits have been brought against the commission.

New Hampshire has invested thousands of dollars in legal time at the Attorney General’s office to redact and prepare marked voter checklists for submission, and Gardner’s office has spent hours on the project as well.

Gardner could not get an answer from the commission guaranteeing a secure line to send the information, which the commission has requested of election officials in all 50 states.

Gardner still remains hopeful the commission can get back to business in 2018 and help give Americans confidence in the electoral process.

“If we don’t get the facts and information we are looking for, I am going to be really disappointed because as a commission, we want the facts to speak for themselves,” Gardner said.

Crime, law and justice New Hampshire Presidential State

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