New Hampshire Democrat defends role on Trump voting commission

MANCHESTER, N.H. (Reuters) - A Democratic member of President Donald Trump’s commission to investigate possible voter fraud defended his participation on the panel on Tuesday while warning that its mission is being threatened by “extreme partisanship.”

Former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach talk to each other during a meeting of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity in Manchester, New Hampshire, U.S., September 12, 2017. REUTERS/Nate Raymond

Dozens of protesters gathered before the second meeting of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity’s in Manchester, New Hampshire, the state that has long held the first nominating primary in the U.S. presidential election cycle.

The panel member, Bill Gardner, who is New Hampshire’s secretary of state, had faced calls to resign after commission Vice Chairman Kris Kobach, a Republican, suggested that thousands of people illegally voted in the northeastern state in November.

Despite calls by New Hampshire’s four-person, all-Democratic congressional delegation to resign, Gardner said he would not.

“New Hampshire people aren’t accustomed to walking away or stepping down from their civic duties,” Gardner said. “I will not either.”

He criticized Kobach, who is the Kansas secretary of state, for calling into question the election’s “real and valid” results. Gardner also noted the opposition the commission has faced from its beginning.

“The specter of extreme political partisanship already threatens our ability to reach a consensus,” Gardner said.

Trump established the commission in May after charging, without evidence, that millions voted unlawfully in the November presidential election. Most state election officials and election law experts say that U.S. voter fraud is rare.

Although Trump handily won the Electoral College vote that ultimately decides the outcome of presidential elections, he lost the popular vote to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton by nearly 3 million votes. Trump has said on Twitter that New Hampshire, which he lost to Clinton by fewer than 2,800 votes, and two other states had “serious voter fraud.”

Tuesday’s meeting drew protesters as the panel heard from speakers about voting trends and the extent voter fraud exists, something speakers from conservative groups like Judicial Watch and Heritage Foundation said was real.

One speaker, John Lott, an economist known for his writings against gun control laws, proposed making voters go through the same federal background check system used for firearm purchases.

In a Breitbart News column on Thursday, Kobach claimed voter fraud led to the November victory in New Hampshire for U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan, a Democrat and former governor of the state, over incumbent Republican Kelly Ayotte by 1,107 votes.

Kobach, an advocate of tougher voter identification, also said Clinton may have won New Hampshire due to illegal voting by non-residents. He renewed his views on Tuesday.

“This is obviously a subject of concern,” he said.

Kobach cited statistics showing 5,313 voters with out-of-state driver’s licenses registered to vote on the day of the election but who did not later obtain New Hampshire licenses.

Democrats countered that the data likely reflected college students from out-of-state who were voting.

Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Bill Trott and Leslie Adler