A few days before President Donald Trump’s “election integrity” commission meets in New Hampshire on Tuesday, its vice chair, Kris Kobach, published a column in Breitbart claiming “proof” that voter fraud in the state had tipped the election against Donald Trump and Republican Senate candidate Kelly Ayotte. Kobach cited numbers released by the state’s Republican House speaker showing that 6,540 people voted in New Hampshire on Election Day using out-of-state driver’s licenses as ID. “It seems that they never were bona fide residents of the State,” Kobach concluded. (This claim echoed one made in February by Trump, who told senators, with no evidence, that “thousands” were “brought in on buses” from Massachusetts to “illegally” vote in New Hampshire.)
But there’s a far simpler and less nefarious explanation for what happened: It’s legal to use an out-of-state driver’s license as ID at the polls in New Hampshire. Indeed, when the Washington Post put out a call for people to tell their stories of voting in New Hampshire after using an out-of-state license as ID, three college students stepped forward within an hour to explain that they had done so.
“Probably most of them [those who registered using an out-of-state license as ID] are college students, but it’s hard to tell how many,” Fergus Cullen, a former chair of the New Hampshire Republican Party in 2007-2008, told us in a phone interview.
“What Kobach and the commission are conflating is a state law they don’t like with massive fraud, and they are two different things,” Cullen said.
Cullen said he’s not a fan of same-day registration and domicile laws. In the past, he said, there have been instances of paid political campaign workers using the addresses of elected officials or campaign offices to vote — only to leave the state shortly after the election.
“We call it drive-by voting,” Cullen said, adding that those kinds of cases number in the dozens, not the thousands.
“You may find that distasteful — I do,” Cullen said, “But there’s nothing illegal about it.”
As the commission meets Tuesday for the second time to discuss potential changes to the way Americans vote, its members have been busy promoting falsehoods like these, exacerbating concerns that they’ll use any pretense to restrict access to the ballot under the guise of eliminating voter fraud. The witness list for the meeting—100 percent white men—includes people who have floated radical ideas like requiring background checks for voting.
Since the commission first met on July 19, its members and their work have been mired in controversy. Here’s what’s happened since then:
- After being almost universally rebuffed on its first attempt, the commission made a second request to all 50 states to hand over data on every American voter. Kobach wrote that “statistical conclusions [will be] drawn from the data.” But the statistics Kobach uses to support his claims of widespread voter fraud are almost always wrong. More than 5,000 voters in Colorado canceled their registrations after the commission initially asked for their data in June. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 8 states have declined to provide any data to the commission; 11 states have imposed conditions on the release of such data; 17 states have provided data that isn’t shielded by state law; and 15 states have not yet responded.
- Legal filings revealed that commission members are using personal emails to conduct government work—the very transgression for which Republicans excoriated Hillary Clinton. According to the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which filed a lawsuit against the commission in July, this violates the Presidential Records Act of 1978, which mandates the preservation of all presidential records.
- Kobach signed on as a paid columnist for Breitbart, which Steve Bannon once called “the platform for the alt-right.” Ethics lawyers said that if Kobach used his column to promote the commission’s work, it would likely violate federal conflict-of-interest laws because he would profit from his position as head of a government task force.
- On August 30, a federal judge strongly criticized the commission for failing to release documents to the public ahead of its first meeting and operate in a transparent manner. “You didn’t completely live up to the government’s representations,” Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly told Justice Department lawyers, calling their argument for the lack of disclosure “incredible.”
- Following the attacks by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer called for the commission to be shut downand said he’d introduce legislation to defund it. “If the president wants to truly show that he rejects the discrimination agenda of the white supremacist movement, he will rescind the Executive Order that created this commission,” Schumer wrote. “And if the president does not act, the Congress should prohibit its operation through one of the must-pass legislative vehicles in September.”