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Top NH election official has no regrets at being on panel

New Hampshire Union Leader

January 04. 2018 8:44PM
Secretary of State Bill Gardner, a member of the now-disbanded Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, says he's not heard a word from anyone about the commission since it met at St. Anselm College on Sept. 12. (File photo)

CONCORD — Secretary of State Bill Gardner has no regrets about his decision to join the now-defunct Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, even though critics of the commission say he should have never signed on in the first place.

“I didn’t ask to be part of it, but if we become people who are not willing to sit on a committee with someone we might not agree with, or don’t like different things about them, that’s not the American Way,” he said on Thursday. “That’s not why we’ve remained a free society. To me, that’s fundamental. If we stop listening, we pay a price.”

President Trump abruptly dissolved the commission on Wednesday, citing his frustration at how many states refused to turn over information.

“That’s all folderol,” said Matthew Dunlap, the Maine Secretary of State who also was recruited to serve on the commission. “I dispute the idea that if you don’t get every piece of information you are looking for, that you are somehow crippled from doing your research.”

Neither Dunlap nor Gardner, both Democrats, got any advance notice of the commission’s demise. Both received the same notification that went out to the media.

The state Department of Justice spent weeks scrubbing voter checklists and digitizing them in anticipation of submitting them to the commission. It also invested heavily in defending Gardner and his office against lawsuits seeking to block the checklist release.

Gardner was named to the commission in May, and hosted its only meeting outside of Washington, D.C., at St. Anselm College in September, when he defended New Hampshire elections against accusations of fraud by the commission chairman.

“When I was asked to be on it, I was hopeful it would be a fact-finding effort,” said Gardner. “At the first conference call we had and the meeting we had in Washington, that’s what we were told. The vice president said we are going to let the facts speak for themselves.”

With many states refusing to cooperate with the commission, lawsuits coming at it in all directions and a key staffer facing child pornography charges, it “went off the rails,” a White House adviser told CNN.

One of those lawsuits was filed by Dunlap, who went to federal court in an attempt to obtain commission documents that he believes he has a right to as a commission member.

A federal judge ruled in Dunlap’s favor on Dec. 22, ordering the commission to provide most of what Dunlap was asking for. He says he still plans to pursue that paperwork, even though the commission is out of business.

“I’m still really interested in those working documents,” says Dunlap. “What proposals have taken shape that could be put into a final report that they are now, by their own admission, taking under their arm and walking over to Homeland Security to try to get done.”


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