Mar 28, 2017 4:45 PM
NH1 Political Director - NH1.com
CONCORD – New numbers from New Hampshire’s Secretary of State’s office indicate that 458 people who voted here on Election Day may have possibility committed voter fraud.
Or as President Donald Trump would possibly say, that’s about seven or eight busloads of people.
It’s been nearly five months since November’s presidential election, but in New Hampshire arguments are still on-going over the president’s claims of illegal voting in the Granite State.
Multiple times since Election Day, Trump has claimed that people from Massachusetts were bused into New Hampshire to vote illegally. The president’s argument has fueled support among Granite State conservatives for Republican backed bills that would tighten New Hampshire’s voting laws. An important showdown looms Thursday in the state Senate over the measure with the best chance of becoming law.
Regardless of the outcome of the legislation, the fight continues over Trump’s allegations. Is the president correct? Was there massive voter fraud in the Granite State?
The 458 people in those latest numbers from the Secretary of State’s office, which was provided to NH1 News on Monday, could potentially have made an impact on close contests here, such as the battle between incumbent GOP Sen. Kelly Ayotte and Democratic challenger Gov. Maggie Hassan. Ayotte lost re-election by just over 1,000 votes.
Figures released earlier this year from the Secretary of State’s office indicate that nearly 6,000 first-time New Hampshire voters in the November election used an out-of-state identification, with many of those people casting ballots in towns in and around colleges and universities. All legal under state law, but adding fuel to arguments by New Hampshire Republicans who are advocating for changes to the state’s election laws.
First, a little history
Trump lost the fight for the Granite State’s four electoral votes by just under 3,000 votes to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, out of more than 700,000 cast. And even though he convincingly won the all-important Electoral College vote, he lost the national popular vote count to Clinton by some 3 million votes.
In November, then-President-Elect Trump claimed in a tweet that he would have won the national popular vote if not for the “millions” of undocumented immigrants who cast ballots against him. He also alleged, without offering proof, that there was “serious voter fraud” in New Hampshire, Virginia, and California.
In February, at a meeting with a bipartisan group of 10 U.S. senators in which he was making a pitch for his Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, Trump once again revived the allegations. Ayotte, who was shepherding Gorsuch through the Senate, was also attending the meeting. According to multiple reports, Trump said that he and Ayotte would have won in New Hampshire if not for voters bused in from out of state.
Many Granite State conservatives have long accused New Hampshire Democrats of gaming the system by bringing in people from out-of-state to vote on Election Day, thanks to the state’s same-day registration law.
Just days before the November election, then-GOP gubernatorial nominee Chris Sununu told conservative radio host Howie Carr “there’s no doubt there’s election fraud.”
He added that Democrats “have really gamed the system in their advantage.”
But three weeks after the election, Sununu said he didn’t believe there was voter fraud. And in an interview with NH1 News in December, he said, “We don’t have fraud in this state, but we do have laws that are a little bit loose. There’s a lot of gray area. A lot of room for interpretation about who’s a resident.”
Sununu, the first GOP governor in a dozen years, continues to say he’s seen no evidence of massive voter fraud, but he’s also a strong supporter of the Republican bills to tighten up the state’s election laws.
Now, let’s break down those numbers
According to data released earlier this year from the Secretary of State’s office following a public records request from NHPR, 5,903 first time New Hampshire voters who registered on Election Day last November used an out-of-state license as their form of identification. That’s 0.78% of all people who voted in the election.
Yes, people with out-of-state licenses can show up and vote on Election Day in New Hampshire. They could be people who recently moved to the state and haven’t had a chance yet to obtain a New Hampshire driver’s license, or they may be out-of-staters attending college here. That’s allowed in the Granite State, as long as those students don’t vote in their home states.
But to vote with an out-of-state license, you need to prove you hold domicile in the state. Showing a utility bill, a lease or a pay stub, can work to prove you actually live in New Hampshire.
Of those 5,903 people who voted last November using an out-of-state license, nearly 40 percent came from Massachusetts. Another 33 percent used licenses from the other states in New England and New York.
More than 4,000 of those 5,903 people using out-of-state licenses to register voted in towns with a high percentage of college students, such as Durham (home to the University of New Hampshire), Hanover and Lebanon (Dartmouth College), Keene (Keene State University), Plymouth (Plymouth State University), Rindge (Franklin Pierce University), Henniker (New England College), and the Manchester area (SNHU and Saint Anselm University).
We don’t know the party identification of those first-time voters using out-of-state ID’s, or how they actually voted. But we do know that those towns and cities with colleges and university consistently give Democratic candidates a big boost in elections.
While those votes are legal, they do feed into the arguments by conservatives that out-of-staters are influencing and possibly swaying Granite State elections. Especially in close contests, like last November’s Trump-Clinton and Ayotte-Hassan races.
It’s worth noting that the Statehouse bill with the best chance of becoming law tightens up the process for out-of-state voters to prove they are domiciled in New Hampshire, but it doesn’t prevent out-of-state college students going to school here from voting.
So who voted illegally?
Voters without any proof that they live New Hampshire are allowed to cast their ballot, but they have to sign a legal document confirming they’re telling the truth about where they live. Signing that document opens them up to the possibility of prosecution if it’s proven they lied.
Within 90 days after the election, the Secretary of State’s office mails letters to those people signing those affidavits. According to documents provided to NH1 News this week by the Secretary of State’s office, 6,033 letters were sent to people who voted in New Hampshire last November without proof of domicile. As highlighted earlier, 458 of those letters came back undeliverable. Many of the names of those people will be sent to the state Department of Justice for investigation and possible prosecution.
It’s worth noting that the 458 undeliverable letters is down from 1,193 four years ago, when a new law allowing the follow up from the Secretary of State’s office was implemented for the first time.
The Secretary of State’s office also sent out 764 letters following this past November’s election to voters who cast a ballot without a satisfactory photo identification. The is no information yet on how many of those letters were returned undeliverable.
When it comes to voter fraud, perception may be as important as reality.
New Hampshire Deputy Secretary of State Dave Scanlan recently told NH1 News that, “we don’t see any widespread voter fraud taking place in New Hampshire. Does it happen in isolated instances? I think the answer is yes. There have been prosecutions in the past.”
But pointing to the comments from the President, Scanlan added that “voter perception is as important as the reality in elections. People, voters, have to have confidence that their elections are operating properly, fairly, with integrity. And there is a fairly high level of lack of confidence in the elections nationwide.”
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