Democracy Dies in Darkness

Politics | Analysis

Kris Kobach's leap of logic on voter fraud in New Hampshire should be disqualifying

By Philip Bump

September 8, 2017 at 8:26 AM

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Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the vice chair of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, spoke at the first meeting of the commission on July 19. (Reuters)

This article has been updated.

In the end, the conclusion that Kris Kobach should be kept as far as possible from any investigation into "voter fraud" — much less co-chairing President Trump's federal exercise — comes down to three words:

"Now there's proof."

Kobach, Kansas' secretary of state, has made a name for himself by ostentatiously seeking to uproot the eternally looming threat of fraudulent voting — much as Don Quixote made a name for himself in battling the scourge of giants. Kobach's efforts have been picked apart exhaustively and repeatedly, including by us, and so we will set aside his greatest hits in favor of his latest which, by itself, is disqualifying for anyone who seeks to claim the authority to weigh in on the topic.

Writing for Breitbart, Kobach picks up a story from the Washington Times about voting in New Hampshire last year. That state has been a focus of voter-fraud conspiracy theories for two primary reasons: (1) It was close and (2) Trump didn't win it. (In Michigan, a state he did win and where the percentage-point margin was even narrower, no one allied with Trump has raised a question at all. In fact, his lawyers asserted in a anti-recount lawsuit in that state that "all available evidence suggests that the 2016 general election was not tainted by fraud or mistake.")

New Hampshire has also been a focus of fraud allegations because it has same-day voter registration, allowing people to show up to a polling place to vote even if they hadn't registered in advance. This is the focus of the Times piece, and of Kobach's failing freshman logic paper at Breitbart.

The Times presents numbers released by the Republican speaker of the New Hampshire House, which we quote directly below:

So: some 5,313 voters registered with out-of-state licenses but hadn't then registered a car within 10 months.

Now, here's Kobach:

"So 5,313 of those voters neither obtained a New Hampshire driver's license nor registered a vehicle in New Hampshire. They have not followed the legal requirements for residents regarding driver's licenses, and it appears that they are not actually residing in New Hampshire. It seems that they never were bona fide residents of the State."

And then he's off to the races: It's likely that the results of the Senate race are tainted! It's possible that New Hampshire's electoral votes went illegally to Hillary Clinton!

Or, you know, maybe they don't have cars. Or, as pointed out by the Daily Mail's David Martosko, once in the running to be Trump's press secretary, maybe they are college students. Or both. Our David Weigel put out a call on social media for people who might be included among those voters above and, in short order, found four. Among them? The chair of the College Democrats at Dartmouth.

Update: Our Chris Ingraham noted an investigation by New Hampshire Public Radio from February in which they determined that most of those same-day registrations were in places that also were home to college campuses.

Donald Trump stands with Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach before their meeting at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., on Nov. 20, 2016. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

The state of New Hampshire has the personal information of these individuals to the point that they know if and when they registered cars. If the Republican legislature and governor would like to dig deeper and determine if any of those 5,000-plus people committed fraud, they certainly can. But since this claim has been made repeatedly, we already have any number of examples of people in the state saying that they've seen no evidence of fraud having occurred.

Kobach's essay would have been troubling enough had it only run with the idea that the 2016 results were uncertain because 5,000 voters voted with out-of-state licenses. But there's that phrase with which he kicked off his essay: "Now there's proof." Now, he wrote, there's proof "that out-of-staters take advantage of New Hampshire's same-day registration and head to the Granite State to cast fraudulent votes" — the numbers cited above. They are to proof what Jackson Pollock is to portraits: If you really want to see a face, you'll see it.

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The White House has claimed there was widespread voter fraud in the 2016 election. We debunk the minimal evidence they provided. (Meg Kelly/The Washington Post)

Kobach is the vice-chairman of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, working with the vice president of the United States. He is helping to lead a federal investigation into the integrity of the voting system — and he cites college kids at Dartmouth as "proof" that Hillary Clinton actually lost the state. His commission, in fact, could ask New Hampshire for the data to investigate these 5,000 cases itself, at which point Kobach could inform the public about whether or not fraud had been proven. Instead he riffed on a Washington Times article.

This isn't a game. Trump's commission seems clearly designed to present fraud as a significant threat to the electoral system, a claim that's belied by any number of studies, including one looking specifically at New Hampshire, and the lack of nearly any actual uncovered examples of it. (If millions voted illegally in California, as some have claimed, you'd have thought maybe one would have been caught.) The effect of the commission will invariably be to call for new legislation making it harder to vote. Such a law in Kansas meant that 34,000 fewer people voted in that state in 2012 than in 2008, with those affected skewing younger and less white. Read: More Democratic.

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On Aug. 1, a federal judge declined to block the president's voter fraud commission from collecting voter data. A lawsuit attempting to block the collection of voter data could now go to a federal appeals court. (Patrick Martin/The Washington Post)

Kobach's past behavior and other recent comments have suggested he's inappropriate for his Trump-appointed role; this Breitbart essay makes that more clear. Incidentally, it was revealed recently that Kobach is compensated for his work at the conservative site. As a paid columnist, the logical leaps of that piece are questionable, much less as one of the two guys running an ostensibly objective look at if there is fraud in the system.

What I'm saying is that the arguments Kobach presents about fraud in New Hampshire — and I recognize the significance of what I'm about to write — should have been too far afield even for Breitbart. They are unquestionably too flawed for someone with the authority that President Trump has bestowed upon him.

This article was updated with Weigel's reporting.


Philip Bump is a correspondent for The Post based in New York.

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