GOFFSTOWN, N.H.—Republicans and Democrats could achieve a bipartisan compromise in preventing voter fraud by applying a Justice Department background check system already in place for gun buyers, a noted economist told the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity meeting here Tuesday.
The commission met at St. Anselm College, its second public gathering since President Donald Trump appointed the bipartisan group of state election officials and election law experts earlier this year.
“A lot of the same rules that determine if someone is eligible to vote determine if you are legally eligible to own a gun,” said John Lott, president of the Crime Prevention Research Center, who was part of the first panel of experts for the commission’s meeting in New Hampshire.
The National Instant Criminal Background Check System, also known as NICS, is used to check the background of gun buyers. Among other things, it includes information on felony convictions, or if someone is in the country illegally. Citizenship is a requirement to vote, while states have varying rules on voting rights for felons.
However, Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap objected to the idea.
“This would be a sterling example of the law of unintended consequences,” Dunlap said. “NICS wasn’t intended for elections.”
Lott said he saw no reason NICS could not be used for background checks to ensure voter eligibility at no cost to the voter, and would be a “trivial cost” to states. He noted that Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., had praised the NICS system.
“This would be one-stop shopping,” Lott said. “This has been hashed out in political debates. If this is a system people honestly believe over time … doesn’t suppress a person’s right legally own a gun, presumably these same people believe it will not suppress voter turnout.”
Commission member Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at The Heritage Foundation, stepped from behind the table, where he was sitting as a commissioner, to be a witness, talking about the nearly 1,100 cases of proven voter fraud on the think tank’s voter fraud database.
“We decided only to include cases where someone was convicted in a court of law, where a judge made judicial finding or where a penalty imposed by government body,” said von Spakovsky, a former Justice Department lawyer and former Federal Election Commission member.
“It’s important for people to understand, because this database has been unfairly and wrongly criticized, [that] this is not a comprehensive list. I don’t have a full-time person working on this. We haven’t even begun to research a fraction. … It’s a sampling of election fraud cases.”
Also, during the meeting, commission Vice Chairman Kris Kobach, the Kansas Republican secretary of state, defended a recent op-ed he wrote for Breitbart News calling out issues with New Hampshire based on information first reported by New Hampshire Public Radio about 6,500 people registered to vote on Election Day using an out-of-state driver’s license. Of that, the state House of Representatives found about 5,500 never subsequently obtained a New Hampshire driver’s license.
“That column prompted some people to react to it. I struggled with what verb to use. So, I said, it appears that non-residents may tipped the results. I still wonder if that is the right word, and I also wonder if it’s possible to condense what is really a complex legal issue into an 800-word column,” Kobach said.
Under New Hampshire law, new residents must obtain a new driver’s license and register their vehicle within 60 days. However, New Hampshire law makes a distinction between a state resident and domicile. A domicile is someone who spends most of their time in the state—such as a college student from out of state.
This is significant given two very close elections last November, in which Democrat Maggie Hassan beat Republican incumbent Kelly Ayotte by just over 1,000 votes. Meanwhile, Democrat Hillary Clinton won the state’s four electoral votes by beating Republican Donald Trump with just 2,800 votes. Beyond that, the small state has 400 members in the House of Representatives—meaning narrow districts—where only a few votes could conceivably make a different.
“If we have evidence that they are not residents, the next question is, are they also not domiciled here, but that’s a much harder question to ask. You can’t just look at someone’s driver’s license,” Kobach said.
“Until further research is done, and until you make the next step to determine how many are non-domiciled and the final cut to actually know how they voted, we will never know the answer regarding the legitimacy of that particular election.”
New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner took issue with Kobach’s suggestion that New Hampshire elections were not conducted in a real and valid way.
“It is real and valid,” Gardner said to applause from audience. “The first meeting, the chairman [Vice President Mike Pence] made it very clear to us, that we work in a consensus, that we work together, with no pre-ordained conclusions. This is a search for the truth, and that is something that we all need to stay focused on.”
Pence did not attend the New Hampshire meeting.
Protesters gathered outside the meeting that morning, waving signs that said “Don’t Mess With Our Vote,” or “Vote Free or Die.”
“This commission is based on fear of voter fraud to suppress votes,” Robert Spencer of Concord, New Hampshire, one of the protesters, told The Daily Signal. “There are more people from out of state trying to suppress the vote than people from out of state coming to vote.”
Gardner also expressed frustration with some other states that refused to cooperate with the commission’s request for what is generally public voter registration data.
“The request the commission made, we only asked for information already made public,” Gardner said. “Are you aware of any states that do not allow the public to see the document of the elections?”
Kimball Brace, president of Election Data Systems, responded that the rules can vary.
“Generally in this case, one can get access to that information, the kicker is that the information is available to candidates or state parties or campaigns and not necessarily for the public or for academics,” Brace said.
Brace also noted 351 counties with more registered voters than citizens in the voting age population. The highest percentage was Harding County, New Mexico, where registered voters were 212 percent of the citizen voting age population, or 742 registered, and just 592 eligible voters. Brace said the common factor was the counties were very small, and shifts can make a big difference. He added that Trump carried the bulk of those counties.