N.H. Election Officials: No Evidence to Back Up Trump's Claims of 'Serious Voter Fraud'

Nov 28, 2016
Originally published on November 28, 2016 6:40 pm

New Hampshire polling places were under plenty of scrutiny on Election Day.

The attorney general’s office dispatched 50 people to polling locations across the state to keep an eye out for problems. The U.S. Department of Justice had its own Election Day hotline set up to field questions and potential complaints. Officials in the Secretary of State’s office, meanwhile, also kept an eye out for issues.

And, despite what President-Elect Donald Trump tweeted Sunday night, nowhere is there any evidence that large groups of people were voting illegally in New Hampshire.

“We have received what I would consider the usual types of complaints during an election. They range everywhere from illegally placed campaign signs to people electioneering in an improper way at the polling place,” says Deputy Secretary of State Dave Scanlan. “There are some isolated instances of individual voters voting improperly. Those have been passed along to the attorney general’s office — and they’ll chase those down — but we haven’t had any complaints about any wide-scale voter fraud taking place.”

On Sunday night, Trump sent a tweet claiming — without any evidence to back it up — that New Hampshire was one of several states where "serious voter fraud" occurred this year. Trump lost New Hampshire to Hillary Clinton by less than 3,000 votes, though it didn’t sway the overall outcome of the election.

“If the President-Elect has information that suggests that there’s something going on that seems contrary to what we understand, then he ought to present that information so it can be followed up on,” Scanlan says.

Similarly, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Zuckerman — who served as the election officer overseeing New Hampshire at the federal level — says U.S. Department of Justice’s Election Day hotline didn’t receive any calls about voter fraud.

In one or two instances, Zuckerman says he did field calls with people who had concerns about vehicles with out-of-state license plates that were parked outside of polling places, but those came mainly from college communities.

“Under New Hampshire law, college students, if they meet the appropriate criteria, can vote in New Hampshire,” Zuckerman affirmed. “In my experience, there really is not a problem with voter fraud in New Hampshire. There have been very few instances that have been documented.”

A recent analysis by Politifact New Hampshire found that the state has prosecuted just three cases of voter fraud since 2012. 

Of the hundreds of election-related emails and letters fielded by state officials this campaign season, Deputy Attorney General Ann Rice says just four might fall into the category of “wrongful voting.” (But she couldn't go into more detail, as the cases are still under investigation.)

To put that number into perspective: More than 750,000 ballots were cast in New Hampshire during November’s election

Still, Trump is hardly the first politician this year to make sweeping claims casting doubt on the validity of New Hampshire’s voting system.

In the run-up to the election, then-candidate, now-Governor-Elect Chris Sununu claimed that Democrats were abusing New Hampshire’s same-day voter registration rules by “busing” in voters who don’t live here.

“The Democrats got very sly. When they first took over in the late nineties and early 2000s, they changed the election law,” Sununu said in an interview with the Boston-based Howie Carr Show. “We have same-day voter registration, and to be honest when Massachusetts elections are not very close, they’re busing them in all over the place.”

Sununu soon backpedaled those comments, acknowledging that he did not actually believe people were literally being bused across the border to vote. (Contrary to what Sununu initially suggested, New Hampshire’s same-day registration was initially passed under a Republican governor and a Republican-controlled Legislature.)

Since the election, Sununu has said he’d like to repeal same-day registration

“I’m not saying that people are doing things illegally,” Sununu told NHPR’s Morning Edition, “but the system allows for so much flexibility and gray area in terms of who’s a resident and who’s not, how long have you been here, same-day voter, what are the checks and balances. It’s just about getting that into place.”

Regarding Trump's comments, Sununu said through a spokesman on Monday that he hasn't heard of any cases of fraud related to November's elections.

While instances of documented voter fraud are few and far between in New Hampshire and elsewhere, the attorney general’s office is buried in a backlog of other kinds of election-related complaints.

Right now, New Hampshire has just one attorney devoting only part of his time to reviewing these cases. As of Sept. 1, there were at least 50 open investigations waiting for a resolution. More than a quarter of those unresolved cases were from 2012 alone.

Hoping to clear up the backlog, the attorney general’s office is asking the Legislature to fund a full-time elections investigator as part of the next state budget.

“One of our obligations under the statute is to do elections enforcement,” says Deputy Attorney General Ann Rice. “And in order to be able to do that, we need to have an investigator who’s available to respond to complaints, investigate, get the information that we need, so that we can decide whether there needs to be a charge filed or some sort of civil enforcement action taken.”

Rice says the request shouldn’t be misconstrued to suggest that voting fraud is not being properly monitored right now – such complaints make up only a fraction of the cases awaiting review. Instead, a lot of the outstanding cases have to do with things like robo-calls, push polls, political advertising and making sure people are filing the correct paperwork.

“We have laws that say you can’t do certain things in elections, and citizens expect that those laws are going to be enforced and ensure fairness in the election process,” Rice says. “And our interest is in making sure that we can respond to any situations that don’t appear to be in accordance with the law. It really is a need to instill confidence in our process.”

With a governor who's eager to tighten the state’s voting rules and a handful of bills on deck aiming to do the same, expect the debate over how best to instill confidence in the state's elections to persist. And if past fights on this issue are any indication, finding a solution that pleases everyone is bound to be a lot more complicated than firing off a tweet.

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