Is Voter Fraud Real?

Real or not, New Hampshire is at the center of it all

Illustration by Peter Noonan

This year, New Hampshire found itself first-in-the nation for the voter fraud debate. With the national glare of a President Trump commission on the matter and NH Secretary of State Bill Gardner under fire for his participation, nowhere else in the country is the topic so hot as it is here — though, if people are really serious, they might want to at least look under the hood of other states.

For 100 years, New Hampshire was a solid Republican state. Then in the 1990s, Democrats began winning, and the state is now one of the most closely watched in election years. In the 2016 presidential election, only one state had a closer margin of victory.

As Democrats started to win, Republicans began to suspect that something was amiss. There is no proof of widespread voter fraud, but there were long-standing tales of unions or other Democratic Party-affiliated groups bringing people in to vote from surrounding blue states. Then, in 2014, Republican US Senate candidate Scott Brown suggested the reason he lost was that people were bussed in from Massachusetts. Two years later, Trump used the same line in a private meeting at the White House to explain why he lost the Granite State to Hillary Clinton.

Much of the talk about voter fraud is really about the state’s awkward laws regarding who can vote here. While it might make intuitive sense that one must be a resident of the state in order to vote, this is not what New Hampshire’s constitution says. In Part 1, Chapter 11, the state’s founders used the term “domicile,” not residence. “Every person shall be considered an inhabitant for the purposes of voting in the town, ward, or unincorporated place where he has his domicile,” it reads.

The fuzziness of what “domicile” means has created problems. Until recently, it has been theoretically possible for out-of-state residents to be domiciled here for one day as long as they certify that at the moment of voting they intend to stick around, but the Legislature seeks to institute a rule that newly domiciled individuals must have lived in the state for 30 days prior to casting a vote. The courts are currently sorting that out.

Meanwhile, no one has documented widespread abuse of the system. An analysis of the 2016 election from New Hampshire Public Radio found that most of those who used an out-of-state ID to register to vote did so in college towns. The legality of a college student living on a New Hampshire campus and voting in our elections is not in question. Some may not like it, but even recent laws from the Republican-led Legislature codified the principle as legal.

Still, Trump’s voter commission came to Manchester in September to ask questions about the state’s voting laws and to pass judgment on it. It was the first place outside of the White House that the commission met.

The perplexing thing is that if the Trump commission wants to take a comprehensive view about voter fraud, then why aren’t they looking at Michigan? That state was won by the closest margin in the last presidential campaign.

Then again, Trump won Michigan and lost New Hampshire. At the same time that Trump was making unfounded accusations about the integrity of New Hampshire’s elections, Trump’s lawyers were writing briefs flatly stating that in Michigan “all available evidence suggests that the 2016 general election was not tainted by fraud or mistake.”

The same is true in the Granite State, but for now, we’ll just have to defend ourselves.  

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