After Exhaustive Investigations, N.H. Officials Find No Widespread Fraud in Recent Elections

May 29, 2018

The issue of voter fraud in New Hampshire — or a lack thereof — was front and center at a meeting of New Hampshire’s Ballot Law Commission in Concord. The big takeaway?  Top state officials haven’t found any evidence that it’s running rampant in New Hampshire’s elections.

Associate Attorney General Anne Edwards said the investigations her office has reviewed suggest that a number of wrongful voting cases stem from genuine confusion or human error — not a vast conspiracy to rig the state’s elections.

“I do believe there are times when people misunderstand where they should vote, which still fascinates me, but they do,” Edwards told the commission. “I think certain people believe that if they own property in two towns they should be able to vote in two different elections in two different towns.”

Such confusion accounted for one of the four wrongful voting prosecutions the state has flagged so far from the 2016 general election.

As Edwards explained at the Ballot Law Commission meeting, and as previously reported by NHPR, one man who owns residential properties in both Hampton and Salem was fined after he voted in both Hampton and Salem in November 2016.

Edwards said the state has punished at least three other  people for voting illegally in the 2016 general election: an elderly woman who submitted an absentee ballot for her late husband and two Dixville Notch voters who no longer lived in the first-of-the-nation enclave.

It also identified one instance in which a Southern New Hampshire University student who lived in Manchester voted in Hooksett because of bad advice he got from a pollworker. While that was technically illegal, Edwards said the state didn’t punish the student because he was acting on bad instructions from a pollworker.

(More details on these and other voting investigations dating back to 2006 can be found in this recent NHPR report.)

Ballot Law Commissioners had plenty of questions for Edwards about what to make of these and other investigations, in the context of the claims about the prevalence of voter fraud in New Hampshire.

“It does not sound like a pattern of activity, it sounds like a bunch of idiosyncratic issues and not, quote, ‘massive voter fraud,’ but just a bunch of idiosyncratic events,” Commission Chairman Brad Cook said. “Would that be a fair characterization?”

“That would be. I have testified many times in front of the election law committees for both the house and the senate and said there doesn’t appear to be any pattern of widespread voting fraud in New Hampshire,” Edwards said.

Cook also asked Edwards whether the state’s received any complaints about so-called buses of voters traveling from out-of-state to participate in New Hampshire elections.

“Yes, we have,” Edwards said – but those complaints proved unfounded when investigated more closely.

While Edwards couldn’t recall any such complaints in 2016, she said they did come up in past elections when political parties worked with out-of-state bus companies to provide shuttles transporting college students to local polling places.

“We’ve received calls about Vermont buses, Massachusetts buses, and Maine buses,” Edwards explained. “Each time we have sent an investigator out to the polling place, and they have been able to determine the situation is that the bus company is from Maine, or Vermont, or Massachusetts, but not the voters on the bus.”

Edwards said similar complaints also came in from concerned voters who spotted a fleet of Massachusetts cars parked outside a Salem polling place, right across the Massachusetts border, in 2014.

“It turned out, it was individuals from Massachusetts who had come up and were holding campaign signs outside. They said it wasn’t an exciting election in Massachusetts, so they were going to come up and hold signs in New Hampshire. but they weren’t trying to vote – they were just out there holding campaign signs.”

Cross-referencing ‘Crosscheck’ data

In addition to the closed cases Edwards detailed, the attorney general’s office is also looking into at least three more possible cases of wrongful voting by people who didn’t show the right kind of credentials when registering to vote.

State officials are also reviewing 142 names that were flagged through the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck program, which is designed to flag people who are registered in multiple states.

It’s not illegal, and is in fact quite common, for a single voter have voter registrations on the books in multiple states – but the Crosscheck program aims to identify these matches as a starting point for states to identify cases in which people may have voted multiple times in the same election.

According to Secretary of State Bill Gardner, the Crosscheck program initially identified 94,610 potential matches between New Hampshire voters and those registered elsewhere during the November 2016 election — but that analysis only looked for voters who had the same first names, last names and dates of birth.

From there, Gardner said his office undertook an exhaustive, year-long effort to cull that list down further. To do so, they combed through public records databases, sought information from election officials in other states, reviewed local voter checklists and more.

Ultimately, the Secretary of State’s office ruled out illegal voting for more than 99 percent of its original Crosscheck matches. The office is now left with 142 voters who are still “under examination” for possibly voting twice in the 2016 election: 51 of those have been sent to the attorney general’s office for further review, and the remaining 91 are still awaiting some additional analysis by the Secretary of State before they decide whether they need to hand them off to the attorney general’s office, as well.

“I’m not sure that any state has done what we’ve just done in the last year,” Gardner said of his office’s approach to narrowing down its Crosscheck results.

While some other states have rushed to publicize the larger total of their Crosscheck matches, Gardner said he wanted to avoid suggesting that the 94,610 matches the program identified in New Hampshire meant that 94,610 illegal votes were cast – which simply isn’t true.

“For the first time, we really have an idea about this. And so it raises the question of, what does someone mean by widespread voter fraud? Does this come anywhere near that? And that’s a judgment call that people individually have to make,” Gardner said. “But we wanted to make sure that we did everything we possibly could think of to bring this down, so that there wasn’t going to be this high number.”