Trump election commission head lambasted for voter fraud claims

Kobach claims he has proof of out-of-state voters

By ERIC BRADNER , CNN
Headline Goes Here Drew Angerer/Getty Images

President Donald Trump and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach

MANCHESTER, New Hampshire (CNN) - Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach took President Donald Trump's voting commission to New Hampshire on Tuesday for a meeting that was designed to justify fears of rampant voter fraud that he -- and the President -- claimed was responsible for Hillary Clinton's narrow win over Trump there last year.

But Kobach was greeted with a tongue-lashing from New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner -- the nation's longest-serving elections official.

Gardner blasted Kobach for arriving with "preconceived, preordained ideas about what the facts are going to turn out to be."

"The problem that occurred because of what you wrote is that the question of whether our election as we have recorded it is real and valid. And it is real and valid," Gardner told Kobach as a small audience applauded Gardner's comment.

He was referring to an op-ed that Kobach, the commission's vice chair, penned for Breitbart last week claiming he'd found "proof" that out-of-state voters had taken advantage of the state's same-day registration to cast illegal votes. Kobach claimed those voters handed Democrats a win in New Hampshire's hotly contested Senate race last year -- and may have tipped the state in Clinton's favor, too.

Kobach's "proof" was that 6,540 same-day registrants used out-of-state driver's licenses to prove their identity.

But Gardner pointed out that New Hampshire law allows another category -- those domiciled in the state -- to legally vote. That category could include college students, active-duty military stationed in New Hampshire and more. He pointed to a state Supreme Court decision that found those people could use out-of-state driver's license to prove their identity, as long as they meet other registration requirements.

Gardner accused Kobach of violating commission chairman Vice President Mike Pence's edict that "that we work in a consensus and we work in a way that we don't have preconceived, preordained ideas about what the facts are going to turn out to be -- that we're going to use the facts; we're going to search for the truth."

Kobach somewhat backed off his op-ed, saying he "struggled with the words -- what verbs to use."

"I am also wondering if it is even possible to condense what is really a complex legal issue into an 800-word column," he said.

Kobach said that "until further research is done" on how many domiciled Granite Staters voted and how, "you'll never know the answer" of the election's legitimacy.

Because of its swing-state status, Kobach said, "New Hampshire faces risks that other states do not face."

Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, one of the Democrats on the panel, backed up Gardner, calling Kobach's assertion that someone not updating their driver's license is proof of voter fraud "a reckless statement."

The Gardner rebuke of Kobach was a window into the entire process that unfolded Tuesday at Saint Anselm College, where most of the day's 12 presenters stoked fears of the potential for widespread voter fraud.

One highlighted voter rolls that haven't been scrubbed of the deceased or those who have moved away. Another suggested using the same background checks required in gun purchases for voter registration.

Election experts both in the room and watching via livestream, meanwhile, pointed out that some presenters' credentials were dubious and their conclusions have already been debunked. Democrats, meanwhile, warned that the meeting was designed to justify a later push for new, restrictive voting laws.

"Rather than hearing from experts in the field of election integrity, the commission gathered a panel of Trump loyalists who support severe voter restrictions. This isn't an investigation, it's a kangaroo court that has put our access to the ballot box on trial," Rep. Terri Sewell of Alabama said in a statement.

Gardner is the nation's longest-serving secretary of state and has been re-elected by Democratic and Republican legislatures largely due to his advocacy for keeping the state's primary first in the presidential nominating process.

National and state Democrats had pressured Gardner to quit the panel, arguing that his participation serves to legitimize what they see as a sham commission in place only to justify Trump's conspiracy theories.

He has rejected calls to step aside, saying that "we hold the first-in-the-nation primary, and we have a proud tradition of civic participation and responsibility. ... New Hampshire people aren't accustomed to walking away or stepping down from their civic duty. And I will not, either."

Still, Democrats mounted an aggressive effort to portray the commission's work as groundwork for a series of additional restrictions on voting that would disproportionately impact minorities, the elderly, students and the poor.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez lambasted the panel on a conference call. Jason Kander, the former Missouri secretary of state and head of the Let America Vote political action committee, was in New Hampshire in person Tuesday morning to protest the panel.

"I am deeply concerned that falsehoods about illegal voting are being spread as a pretext for restricting access to the ballot box," New Hampshire Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen said in a statement to the commission. "This risks disenfranchising eligible voters and undermining faith in our democracy."

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