Apr 18, 2017 3:07 PM
CONCORD – Two of Donald Trump’s biggest backers during the 2016 presidential campaign said they’ve witnessed what they charge is voter fraud in New Hampshire.
But such talk of illegal voting was disputed by New Hampshire's top election official.
State Rep. Al Baldasaro said “I’ve seen it with my own eyes,” as he testified in front of a state House of Representatives Election Law Committee hearing Tuesday on a much argued about bill that would tighten New Hampshire’s voting laws by adding new requirements to prove eligibility.
And state Rep. Fred Doucette told NH1 News he “personally witnessed” people at a New Hampshire polling station getting out of cars with Massachusetts plates and voting.
But longtime New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner testified in front of the committee that “we’ve never been provided proof” of widespread voter fraud in New Hampshire.
Some Republicans have long pushed for tightening up New Hampshire’s voting laws, accusing Democrats of gaming the system by taking advantage of the Granite State’s same day registration law. But the issue of voter fraud grabbed nation attention in recent months when President Trump made unsubstantiated claims that thousands of people bused in from Massachusetts voted illegally in the Granite State in last year’s election.
Baldasaro, a former Marine and outspoken conservative lawmaker from Londonderry, was a top Trump supporter and adviser on veterans affairs during the 2016 campaign.
Testifying in support of the bill, Baldasaro recounted that “I counted within an hour and a half 27 cars with Massachusetts (plates) going into our polls.”
“If you want to see the proof, I have the pictures on my phone,” Baldasaro added.
He was referring to pictures on his phone (that he showed this reporter) of those cars and their out-of-state-plates that he said were sent to him by a concerned senior citizen
Baldasaro charged that “nobody wants to own up to it that we have some funny stuff going on in this state. I’ve seen it with my own eyes.”
“When somebody from out of state comes in and votes they knock out somebody who’s domiciled in New Hampshire. I whole heartedly support this legislation.”
Doucette, a Salem Republican who served as co-chair of Trump’s campaign in New Hampshire, told NH1 News “I don’t know that I can speak to the bus loads of people, but I can tell you this - I personally witnessed cars with Massachusetts plates pulling into polling places in my town of Salem, going in and voting.”
Doucette called the bill “a good place to start.”
Testifying later at the hearing, Gardner said “there’s never been any proof that something like that has happened.”
But Gardner, a Democrat who supports the legislation, added that “a number of people in this state believe that there is something like that happening.”
He added that the state’s already identified at least one case of wrongful voting from last year’s election, and said another is "imminent," and two more cases are likely.
Gardner recounted that he went to a polling station a few elections ago after reports of lots of cars with Massachusetts plates pulling up. He said he personally witnessed the out-of-state plates and inquired with polling officials. They took him outside, to show that the people with out-of-state plates were holding campaign signs and demonstrating, but not voting.
What the bill would do
The bill, officially known as SB3, mandates that anyone who registers to vote either prior to or on Election Day itself, thanks to the state's same-day registration law, present definitive proof that they reside in the Granite State.
People who fail to provide such identification could still vote, but would be required to read and sign a form, and then provide proof of domicile to city and town clerks within 10 days of voting, or 30 days for towns where offices are only open once a week.
That’s a quicker time period requirement than current election law dictates. If those documents aren’t provided the deadline, provisions in the bill could eventually allow town clerks or other local officials to pay a home visit to obtain a voter’s proof of residency. Another provision that would have allowed police to knock on new voter’s doors to verify their addresses elicited a lot of push back and was removed from the bill during the Senate committee process.
The bill, which was authored by GOP Sen. Regina Birdsell of Hampstead, passed through the state Senate last month along party lines, with all 14 Republicans supporting the measure and the 9 Democrats in the chamber opposed.
Supporters say the legislation will help ensure that only people who actually live in the Granite State vote here, cutting down on what they say is voter fraud. But opponents say the measure will disenfranchise voters.
Republican Gov. Chris Sununu supports the measure.
Gardner comes under attack
Prior to the start of the hearing, scores of opponents of the bill were assembled outside of Representatives Hall. Early in the hearing, Democratic state Rep. Wayne Burton criticized Gardner for denying Trump’s claims over massive voter fraud in New Hampshire but then supporting the bill.
"That is schizophrenia at its worst,” the lawmaker from Durham said.
Testifying later, Gardner said “I don’t want to hurt the turnout,” but added that “I also don’t want a result where people believe these results are not true.
Gardner described “this bill is a small step” and he said people who people who showed up at the polls without proof of domicile are “still going to be able to vote just like everyone else.”
The longest serving secretary of state in the nation pushed back on claims the bill would drive down voter participation, saying “I just don’t see it.”
He argued that similar arguments were made in 2012 over the voter ID bill, and that voter participation hasn’t dropped since the implementation of that measure.
"I have never come before this committee in support of a bill I did not think would actually help participation,” Gardner added.
Numerous people testified against the measure, including college students Jennifer West and Charlotte Blatt.
“I love New Hampshire but sometimes I feel like New Hampshire doesn’t love me back,” West said. “New Hampshire residents should be alarmed by this effort to strip our voting rights.
And she warned that “we may be young now but the people that this bill will disenfranchise are growing up.”
Blatt argued that “this bill makes voting unnecessarily difficult and confusing.”
“This bill would add additional layers that students would find too troublesome and would be disenfranchised from voting,” she added.
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