NH Week in Review for May 14: Gardner agrees to help to get to bottom of voter fraud

May 14, 2017

New Hampshire Secretary of State William Gardner agreed to become a member of an Election Integrity Commission empanelled this week by President Donald Trump.

Trump, who has had a long discourse alleging massive voter fraud, including in New Hampshire, wants the commission to investigate improper registrations, improper voting, fraudulent registrations, fraudulent voting and voting suppression.

Gardner has agreed to serve on the commission, not so much to root out voter fraud, because he doesn’t believe it’s widespread, particularly here in the Granite State, but because he wants to restore faith in the system.

“There is a reason I’m doing this,” Gardner said in a WMUR interview on Friday. “I care a lot about this. I’ve spent my whole life dealing with it, and it’s too bad that over half of the people in the country feel that there is vote fraud. Let’s find out why.”

The 16-member commission created by executive order Thursday will be directed by Vice President Mike Pence. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Republican, will serve as its vice chair.

In post-election interviews and in Twitter tweets, the president has said he would have won the popular election against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had it not been for voter fraud. One of the states he singled out was New Hampshire, saying additionally that Republican Kelly Ayotte would have been re-elected to the U.S. Senate had it not been for the fraud.

While both Trump and Ayotte lost in New Hampshire, a consensus of Republican leaders, Democrats, and election officials agree that massive voter fraud wasn’t the reason.New Hampshire's Republican leadership, along with Gov. Christopher Sununu, is trying to tighten up voter residency requirements in the state, but talk of busloads of out-of-state voters coming here to vote has never been substantiated.

Gardner, a Democrat, is the longest-serving state election official in the nation. He supports efforts to tighten voter residency requirements in the state and has said that Trump’s claim of widespread voter fraud in the state is untrue.

Of serving on the commission, he said, “Maybe we’ll be able to solve that question of why so many people believe there is voter fraud.”

Marijuana decriminalization advances

Decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana cleared the Senate this week, the best indication in years that it will soon become law.

While marijuana decriminalization has had House support over the years - eight times in the last decade - it has not had support from the Senate, nor from past governors.

This year, however, the bipartisan effort is on track to become state law.

HB 640 was originally approved by the House and some changes were made in the Senate. It now goes back to the House where it needs approval before going to Gov. Sununu, who said, “I want to thank the Legislature for passing common sense marijuana reform. I look forward to signing House Bill 640 into law.”

The Senate version reduces the amount subject to decriminalization from one ounce to three-quarters of an ounce,

Rather than face a criminal conviction if you’re arrested in possession of three quarters of an ounce, you’ll face a misdemeanor charge and a fine.

See a Union Leader story here.

Also at the Statehouse

The effort to eliminate Daylight Saving Time by pushing New Hampshire from the Eastern to the Atlantic Time Zone has failed. HB 209 died in the Senate. See an NHPR story here.

The Senate approved an amended HB 400 to have the state invest $20 million over the next two years on additional mental health beds. The measure would ease a shortage that has psychiatric patients waiting in hospital emergency rooms for admission to New Hampshire Hospital. See a Union Leader story here. “Improving our state’s mental health system and reforming DCYF are not options. They are not areas that we have the luxury of putting off for another day. They are absolute necessities that our state must address immediately. This legislation is a critical step forward,” Sununu said in a statement.

The House conducted an ethics review of two legislators - one a Republican, the other a Democrat - for using social media accounts in ways unbecoming of a state representative. State Rep. Sherry Frost, D-Dover, was before lawmakers to answer to threatening Twitter tweets. See a Concord Monitor story here. State Rep. Robert Fisher was before lawmakers to answer to misogynistic comments attributed to him on a Reddit forum. See a Concord Monitor story here. Decisions are pending against the two lawmakers.

Also around the state

One fallout from the president’s firing of FBI Director James Comey has been the mention of Kelly Ayotte as a possible replacement. Ayotte, defeated by Democrat Maggie Hassan in November, has some favor in the White House, given her successful shepherding of Neil Gorsuch through the Senate confirmation process to his appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. Ayotte, a Republican, is a former New Hampshire attorney general, having served both GOP and Democratic governors, Craig Benson and John Lynch. But a list of potential candidates for the job did not include Ayotte. See a Union Leader story here.

The Executive Council this week took up the governor’s nomination of Charlie Arlinghaus as administrative services commissioner. Arlinghaus was president of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy before becoming chief budget adviser to Gov. Sununu. Some councilors wondered if Arlinghaus had the experience to oversee the department’s responsibilities of financial management, public works, human resources, plant and property management and purchasing. A council decision is pending. See a Union Leader story here.

The University of New Hampshire Survey Center released three polls this week on the current pulse of Granite State voters on certain public officials and issues. Here are the headlines:

Topics under discussion on our Facebook page this week included the Comey firing and whether school districts should eliminate February and April vacations. Join in here.

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