Dis­cord on vot­ing panel: Vice chair­man said fraud ‘likely’ al­tered New Hamp­shire’s Se­nate race.

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY JOHN WAG­NER john.wag­ner@wash­post.com

goff­s­town, n.h. — Pres­i­dent Trump’s “elec­tion in­tegrity” com­mis­sion, a source of roil­ing con­tro­versy since its in­cep­tion, con­vened here Tues­day amid fresh dis­cord over an un­founded as­ser­tion by its vice chair­man that the re­sult of New Hamp­shire’s Se­nate elec­tion last year “likely” changed be­cause of voter fraud.

Kansas Sec­re­tary of State Kris Kobach (R) largely de­fended an ar­ti­cle pub­lished Fri­day in which he pointed to statis­tics show­ing that more than 6,000 peo­ple had voted in a close elec­tion here us­ing out-of-state driver’s li­censes to prove their iden­tity. He sug­gested that was ev­i­dence of peo­ple tak­ing ad­van­tage of New Hamp­shire’s same-day reg­is­tra­tion and head­ing to the Gran­ite State to cast fraud­u­lent votes.

New Hamp­shire only re­quires vot­ers to state their “domi­cile,” a looser stan­dard than res­i­dency, and col­lege stu­dents and oth­ers rou­tinely vote with­out state-is­sued driver’s li­censes.

Kobach’s ar­ti­cle has been re­buked by elec­tion ex­perts and among those who crit­i­cized his ar­gu­ment was New Hamp­shire Sec­re­tary of State Bill Gard­ner (D), a fel­low com­mis­sion mem­ber and host of Tues­day’s meet­ing of the Pres­i­den­tial Ad­vi­sory Com­mis­sion on Elec­tion In­tegrity. Af­ter an or­ga­ni­za­tional gath­er­ing in July, the panel is hold­ing sev­eral meet­ings around the coun­try.

Gard­ner said the dis­tinc­tion be­tween res­i­dency and domi­cile re­quire­ments is com­pli­cated and is one that his state is work­ing on. But Gard­ner de­fended the Se­nate elec­tion re­sult as “real and valid” and said Kobach’s ar­ti­cle — which ap­peared in Bre­it­bart, the pub­li­ca­tion led by Stephen K. Ban­non, the re­cently ousted White House chief strate­gist — showed why the com­mis­sion needs to be more care­ful about its as­ser­tions mov­ing for­ward.

Gard­ner noted that Kobach said at the pre­vi­ous meet­ing there should be no “pre­or­dained” or “pre­con­ceived” no­tions about what the group will con­clude af­ter study­ing data and hear­ing from ex­perts.

“That is some­thing that we all need to stay fo­cused on,” Gard­ner said. “I hope we all learn from this.”

An­other Demo­crat on the com­mis­sion, Maine Sec­re­tary of State Matthew Dun­lap, called Kobach’s Bre­it­bart piece “reck­less” and said he shouldn’t be com­par­ing re­quire­ments for vot­ing and ob­tain­ing driver’s li­censes. Do­ing so, he said, is “al­most as ab­surd as say­ing if you have cash in your wal­let that’s proof that you robbed a bank.”

Kobach told fel­low com­mis­sion­ers Tues­day that he was still wrestling over his word choices and con­ceded there was no way to know for cer­tain whether Demo­crat Mag­gie Has­san’s elec­tion to the Se­nate was il­le­git­i­mate.

“It’s a very dif­fi­cult is­sue to con­dense into a short ar­ti­cle,” Kobach said of his Bre­it­bart piece.

The com­mis­sion — which heard sev­eral hours of tes­ti­mony Tues­day about vot­ing trends, al­le­ga­tions of voter fraud and ways to ma­nip­u­late elec­tronic vot­ing ma­chines — was spawned from Trump’s base­less claim that il­le­gal vot­ing cost him the pop­u­lar vote in the Novem­ber pres­i­den­tial elec­tion against Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton.

Trump named Vice Pres­i­dent Pence as chair­man, but he has largely ceded lead­er­ship of the com­mis­sion to Kobach, who has pur­sued cases of voter fraud in Kansas and is now run­ning for gover­nor.

Democrats in Wash­ing­ton have de­rided the com­mis­sion as a waste of re­sources tar­get­ing a prob­lem that is not re­motely as preva­lent as Trump has sug­gested.

The com­mis­sion faced wide­spread push­back from an ini­tial re­quest to states to ob­tain voter in­for­ma­tion, in­clud­ing from some Repub­li­can of­fi­cials, who ques­tioned its reach. And a fed­eral judge last month tore into the com­mis­sion for reneg­ing on a prom­ise to fully dis­close pub­lic doc­u­ments be­fore its first pub­lic meet­ing.

The lat­est con­tro­versy over Kobach’s ar­ti­cle emerged days be­fore the sched­uled meet­ing here at the New Hamp­shire Institute of Pol­i­tics at Saint Anselm Col­lege.

In a state­ment is­sued Tues­day be­fore the meet­ing, Sen. Jeanne Sha­heen (D-N.H.) chas­tised Kobach for us­ing “de­cep­tive and ir­rel­e­vant data to re­hash the same false claims that have been de­bunked time and time again by in­de­pen­dent anal­y­sis and by mem­bers of both par­ties in the Gran­ite State.”

Since Fri­day, Gard­ner — one of five Democrats on the 12-mem­ber com­mis­sion — has faced calls to re­sign from the com­mis­sion from fel­low Democrats, in­clud­ing Sha­heen.

At the out­set of Tues­day’s meet­ing, he said he con­sid­ered it his civic duty to con­tinue serv­ing.

“New Hamp­shire peo­ple are not ac­cus­tomed to walk­ing away or step­ping down from their civic duty, and I will not either,” Gard­ner said.

Alan King, an­other Demo­crat on the com­mis­sion, skipped Tues­day’s meet­ing, cit­ing a con­flict. In a phone in­ter­view, King, a pro­bate judge in Alabama, said he told Pence’s staff that he would be un­avail­able for three days in Septem­ber, in­clud­ing Tues­day.

“They’ve known this since July,” King said. “But I get it. I’m just one per­son.”

King, who has voiced strong skep­ti­cism about Trump’s voter fraud claims, said he had heard a lot of “push­back” about his ser­vice on the com­mis­sion but plans to con­tinue par­tic­i­pat­ing “as of right now.”

“As long as I be­lieve I have a voice for truth I plan to con­tinue to serve,” he said. “But I have a se­ri­ous ques­tion about whether dif­fer­ing views are wel­come.”

More than a dozen in­vited wit­nesses ad­dressed the com­mis­sion on Tues­day, in­clud­ing John Lott, an in­de­pen­dent re­searcher and Fox News com­men­ta­tor, who ar­gued that a back­ground check sys­tem for gun pur­chases, could be used to screen new vot­ers.

Lott said that the Na­tional In­stant Crim­i­nal Back­ground Check Sys­tem (NICS) flags many of the same con­cerns that could dis­qual­ify vot­ers. Democrats have praised the sys­tem, he said, and Repub­li­cans are ea­ger to have tighter con­trols against voter fraud.

“It might be a so­lu­tion that might please both sides,” Lott said.

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