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Gardner to Kobach: Election was 'real and valid'

By DAVE SOLOMON
State House Bureau

September 12. 2017 3:56PM
New Hampshire Secretary of State William Gardner welcomes guests at the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity at St. Anselm College on Tuesday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

GOFFSTOWN — President Trump's Commission on Election Integrity convened for the first time in New Hampshire on Tuesday, with N.H. Secretary of State Bill Gardner joining commission Vice Chairman Kris Kobach, Kansas secretary of state, in hosting the daylong session at St. Anselm College's Institute of Politics.

"New Hampshire is the perfect place for our first substantive meeting," said Kobach, whose visit to the state comes on the heels of statements he made questioning the validity of recent New Hampshire elections.

Gardner took advantage of the forum to defend the results of the 2016 election against accusations of fraud in the wake of voting statistics released last week by Speaker of the House Shawn Jasper.

After Jasper reported that more than 6,500 voters used out-of-state identification to register, Kobach published an opinion piece on breitbart.com suggesting that fraudulent voting cost Republican incumbent Kelly Ayotte the election for U.S. senator.

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

Gardner went on to say that he could understand Kobach's concern, given the confusion that exists between "residency" and "domicile" when it comes to eligibility in New Hampshire, which the state Legislature is attempting to address through SB 3, the new election law being challenged in court.

"New Hampshire faces risks that other states don't face and I applaud the Legislature for attempting to address those risks," said Kobach, alluding to the state's same-day registration option. "I think SB 3 is a good way of addressing the risk."

Questions by the commission members for the expert panelists presenting at the event centered on factors that encourage or discourage voting and the best methods for determining voter eligibility.

Panelist John Lott, president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and an author of books on voter fraud suggested that states could use the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) to verify voter registration.

"This has become a very partisan issue," he told the commission. "You have Republicans worried about ineligible people voting, and Democrats thinking Republicans are just imagining things."

The NICS system, which Democrats support as a way of verifying someone's Second Amendment rights, should be widely accepted as a way to verify voting rights, he said.

"Democrats have long been concerned about voter suppression, but they have long lauded the background check system on guns," Lott said. "The NICS system is close to what we care about when deciding if people can vote."

That suggestion generated some tough questioning from commission members, including Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap.

"We'd witness a sterling example of the law of unintended consequences," he said. "The NICS system wasn't designed for elections."

Level of confidence

Former Gov. John H. Sununu offered opening remarks as an invited guest, and echoed Gardner's concern that voters must be convinced that the election process has integrity in order to encourage their participation.

Professor Andrew Smith of the UNH Survey Center said polling by his organization suggests that 85 to 83 percent of New Hampshire residents have high confidence in the state's electoral process, but the fact that some don't should be a concern.

In response to questions about the difference between domicile and residency in New Hampshire, Smith explained that state courts have ruled that domicile, not residency, determines voting rights.

"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," he said. "That's the distinction between domicile and citizenship."

Maine Secretary of State Dunlap summed up the testimony this way: "The question appears to be, where is your pillow?"

Case histories

In the afternoon session, Ken Block of Simpatico Software Systems, which specializes in helping government entities identify fraud and waste, said illegal voting is widespread and provided several case histories.

"The data provided by states is not standardized; the quality can be very poor; there are at least half a dozen states we cannot get data from," he said. "We have high-confidence indicators of potentially fraudulent voters and ineffective oversight in some states. People can duplicate vote between states without any mechanism to stop it."

Many of the presenters at the event represented organizations that claim to have documented extensive voter fraud, including the Judicial Watch Election Integrity Project, Simpatico Software Systems, the Heritage Foundation and the Crime Prevention Research Center.

The panel also heard a presentation from three speakers on electronic voting systems and their impact on election integrity, and watched a demonstration of 19th century New Hampshire voting machines still in use today.

dsolomon@unionleader.com


New Hampshire Elections