Voting commission meeting turns contentious

Voting commission meeting turns contentious
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The White House’s voter fraud commission held its second meeting Tuesday in New Hampshire as the controversy surrounding the panel intensifies.

Fault lines emerged between Democratic and Republican members on several issues, including a proposal to subject voter registration to the same background check system used to clear gun sales.

Commission Vice Chairman Kris Kobach, Kansas's Republican secretary of state, also drew criticism for his recent, disputed assertion that illegal out-of-state voting played a role in New Hampshire’s 2016 election results.

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The daylong meeting, which centered on issues affecting the public's confidence in election integrity, underscored the deep partisan divide over the panel, which was ostensibly created to investigate President Trump’s repeated claims, presented without evidence, of significant voter fraud in the 2016 election.

The controversy has already ensnared members of the commission. New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, a Democrat, has faced repeated calls from both of his state's senators and the Democratic National Committee to leave the panel in light of Kobach’s allegations that New Hampshire's election likely featured significant fraud.

Gardner pushed back against the criticism from fellow Democrats at the start of the meeting, saying that “New Hampshire people aren’t accustomed to walking away or stepping down from their civic duty, and I will not either.”

“The specter of extreme political partisanship already threatens our ability to reach a consensus,” he added, defending the commission’s work.

Gardner kicked off the meeting along with his guest, former New Hampshire Gov. John H. Sununu, a Republican.

“As long as there’s a significant percentage that doubts the integrity of that process, we will not have full participation,” Sununu said.

Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap (D) emerged as the panel’s most aggressive Democrat on Tuesday, tangling with a witness and using part of his time to passively push back against Kobach’s claims about New Hampshire’s 2016 elections.

Kobach argued in a recent Breitbart News that the fact that thousands of people who registered to vote on Election Day in New Hampshire using out-of-state licenses means that it "appears" that the “election was stolen through voter fraud.” That accusation echoed Trump's claim that out-of-state voters were bused into New Hampshire to assure Democratic victories in the state.

While he didn’t mention Kobach’s recent Breitbart News column that housed the controversial assertion, Dunlap used his early round of questioning to undercut Kobach’s claims.

New Hampshire law allows those “domiciled” in the state to vote, defining "domiciled" as any voter who spends most of their nights in the state. That could include college students who may have licenses from their own home states, but spend a majority of the year in the state.

When Kobach addressed the controversy by noting that he may not have used the precise language to capture the “complex legal issue” but still said that "until further research is done, we will never know the answer regarding the legitimacy of this particular election," Dunlap pushed back.

“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: If you have a cash in your wallet, you’ve robbed a bank,” he said.

Dunlap also played a role in another contentious part of the meeting, challenging a proposal from Dr. John Lott, a prominent gun rights activist, to adopt the same background check system used to clear gun purchases to voter registration.

Lott argued that Democratic concerns that the commission will be used to disenfranchise voters would be satisfied by his proposal, since most Democrats are on the record supporting the background check system for guns.

“You have Republicans generally worrying about ineligible people voting and Democrats largely thinking Republicans are just imagining things ... it might be a solution that pleases both sides,” he said.

“It’s been hashed out in the political debate lots and lots of times … This is a system [Democrats] honestly believe is a fair and accurate way of determining whether someone can go out and own a gun. Presumably, they would think it would not suppress voter turnout.”

But Dunlap pushed back during a back-and-forth between the two men, blasting Lott’s idea as a “sterling example of the laws of unintended consequences” that would dramatically widen the mission of the background check database.

“NICS was never intended to be used as an election tool. That’s something I find as a rather strident departure,” Dunlap said.

The rest of the more than six-hour meeting included arguments from proponents of stricter voting laws.

Ken Block, a Republican who heads a software company, complained that the government is not "actively looking for fraud," telling a story about how he tested the system by obtaining a voter ID card in Rhode Island by using forged documents. 

"The data is not standardized between states, the data quality is poor in some states and there’s a lack of transparency," Block said.

A group of experts discussed potential cyber vulnerabilities in the election system that could leave vote totals at risk. 

Democrats rallied outside, protesting the meeting as an attempt at voter suppression. Opponents included Democrats like Jason Kander, the former Missouri secretary of state who chairs the Democratic National Committee's commission against the Trump panel.  

“New Hampshire voters are fed up with the lies that President Trump and his sham voting commission are spreading about voter fraud in their state,” Kander said in a statement. 

“The foundation of Trump’s sham commission is the biggest lie ever told by a U.S. President — that millions of illegal votes were cast in the last election.