Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach faced backlash from two of his colleagues on President Donald Trump’s election integrity commission Tuesday over a recent unproven claim that voter fraud probably changed the outcome of a key U.S. Senate election in New Hampshire.
Kobach, who a Republican who is vice chairman of the commission, explained the thinking behind his allegation during the panel’s second meeting Tuesday.
In a Breitbart column published last week, Kobach criticized New Hampshire’s same-day voter registration and wrote that a “pivotal, close election was likely changed through voter fraud.”
That election last fall saw Democratic Senate candidate Maggie Hassan defeat Republican Kelly Ayotte by roughly a thousand votes.
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Kobach’s column referred to what he said were recent statistics that showed “there were 6,540 same-day registrants who registered to vote in New Hampshire using an out-of-state driver’s license to prove their identity.”
Later in the column, Kobach wrote that 5,313 in that group “neither obtained a New Hampshire driver’s license nor registered a vehicle in New Hampshire.”
Kobach then labeled that group as “fraudulent votes.”
When Kobach mentioned his Breitbart column Tuesday, he said he struggled with “what verb to use” when he wrote that it appeared non-residents might have tipped the results.
“I’m still wondering if that was the right word,” Kobach said. “I’m also wondering if it’s even possible to condense what is really a complex legal issue into an 800-word column.”
In that column, Kobach also floated the possibility that illegal voting by nonresidents in New Hampshire also swayed that state’s electoral votes to Hillary Clinton.
Despite the more certain tone of his column where he wrote “now there’s proof,” Kobach signaled a less definitive tone Tuesday.
“Until further research is done and until you make the next cut to determine how many are non-domiciled and then the final cut to actually determine how they voted, we will never know the answer regarding the legitimacy of that particular election,” Kobach said.
Moments later New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, a fellow commission member, responded.
“The problem that has occurred because of what you wrote is ... the question of whether our election as we have recorded ... is real and valid,” said Gardner, a Democrat. “And it is real and valid.”
Another panel member, Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, also criticized Kobach’s New Hampshire claim.
“Making this equation that somehow people not updating their driver’s license is an indicator of voter fraud would be almost as absurd as saying that if you have cash in your wallet, then that’s proof that you robbed a bank,” said Dunlap, a Democrat. “I think it’s a reckless statement to make.”
Earlier during Tuesday’s meeting, Dunlap had asked Andrew Smith, an associate professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire, to clarify the state’s voting rules.
“The court rulings in New Hampshire say that the requirement for voting is that you are domiciled here,” Smith told the commission. “Which has been interpreted to mean that you spend most of your nights in the state.”
It’s a question that comes up routinely in election years, Smith said.
“I live in Durham, where the University of New Hampshire is,” Smith said. “A big college town. We often get complaints that there are college students who are out-of-state students who are voting. But it is legal in New Hampshire for you to have a Massachusetts driver’s license and have Massachusetts plates on your cars and pay 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.”
Trump formed the election integrity commission earlier this year and Kobach was soon named vice chairman.
The Kansas Republican, who is also running for governor, has essentially led the commission’s first two meetings.
Both Trump and Kobach have claimed there was widespread voter fraud in the 2016 election. Neither Republican has publicly provided any direct evidence or clear proof that such large fraud actually occurred.