Drew Cline: Bill Gardner knows that voter fraud happens in New Hampshire.
“We have drive-by voting,” New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner said in an interview on Wednesday.
A revered Democrat, Gardner is a mild-mannered throwback to the days when politics was a little less nasty and a little less partisan. His passion, in addition to preserving New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary status, is preserving the integrity of its elections. For this reason, the genial Gardner will rant for an hour about the state’s voting laws, which he says allow blatant and ongoing voter fraud.
He has witnessed fraud with his own eyes, Gardner says. He tells anyone who will listen that the problem is real and pervasive. But few are listening.
Gardner identifies two central reasons why New Hampshire is a haven for voter fraud. One is the way the state defines “domicile” for voting purposes.
“We have all kinds of different durational requirements for residency,” he said. “You have to be here five years. You have to be here six months, depending on whether it’s a fishing license, welfare. The governor has to live here seven years. When Eisenhower came here in the 1950s, he couldn’t fish. They had to go to Maine.”
But there is no residency requirement for voting. Many states — including Maine and Vermont — require that voters be residents. New Hampshire does not. A U.S. Supreme Court case in 1972 ruled part of the state’s residency requirement unconstitutional, so the state requires merely that a voter be “domiciled” in New Hampshire. Domicile is defined for voting purposes as “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.”
That is, domicile hinges on the voter’s physical presence in New Hampshire and “state of mind,” as Gardner says. The latter is unprovable in court, which is why the state Attorney General’s office will not prosecute most fraud cases. That sets the foundation for fraud.
Building upon that foundation, Gardner says, is Election Day voter registration, which New Hampshire adopted to comply with the federal “motor voter law” of 1993. Under the law, people can show up at a polling place on Election Day, register to vote under our loose domicile definition, then leave the state the next day.
In 2012, Gardner filed an affidavit in a case challenging the state’s voter registration form. In it, he told how he witnessed fraud personally in 2008 when he went to vote.
“The people that ran the polling place called me over, and said they had three people who didn’t know whether they could vote, and they wanted me to answer the questions,” he explained in our interview. “So I go over, there were two young men and a young woman, and they were AmeriCorps (volunteers).
“I said, ‘Where is your home?’ The woman said, ‘Washington State.’ I said, “Why didn’t you vote in Washington State?’ She said she missed the deadline, but she really wanted to vote. She said she was going back to Washington state the first of December. I said, well that should answer it for yourself as to whether this is now your home.
“But then one of the guys said, wait, you don’t know for sure, you might fall in love with a guy tonight. You don’t know for sure.” The woman registered, but wound up not voting. The two men did.
Gardner said he is powerless to stop such drive-by voting unless legislators fix the law. Every legislative session, he hopes they will.
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* Note: Last week’s column noted an anomaly in Bedford, where 900 fewer votes were recorded in the primary race for the Republican nomination for governor than in the other races. Gardner checked it out and said there was a recording error, and the 900 people did vote. The breakdown was 800 votes for Walt Havenstein, 100 for Andrew Hemingway.
Andrew Cline is editorial page editor of the New Hampshire Union Leader. His column runs on Thursdays. His Twitter handle is @drewhampshire.