By Nate Raymond
MANCHESTER, N.H. (Reuters) – A Democratic member of President Donald Trump’s bipartisan commission to investigate possible voter fraud after the 2016 U.S. presidential election said on Tuesday its mission is being threatened by “extreme partisanship.”
Dozens of protesters gathered near the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity’s second meeting in Manchester, New Hampshire, where it is investigating reports of voter fraud.
Trump established the commission in May after charging, without evidence, that millions voted unlawfully in November’s presidential election.
Commission member Kris Kobach, the Republican secretary of state for Kansas, stirred controversy last week when he said in a Breitbart News column that voter fraud in New Hampshire led to former Democratic Governor Maggie Hassan defeating incumbent Republican Kelly Ayotte for a U.S. Senate seat.
Kobach, an advocate of tougher immigration laws and voter identification, also said Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton may have won New Hampshire due to illegal voting by non-residents.
His comments prompted New Hampshire’s four-person, all-Democratic congressional delegation to urge New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, also a Democrat, to resign from the commission. Gardner said on Tuesday he would not.
“New Hampshire people aren’t accustomed to walking away or stepping down from their civic duties,” Gardner said at the meeting’s start. “I will not either.”
He said the commission has faced opposition since it was launched, even though it has not yet reached any conclusions.
“The specter of extreme political partisanship already threatens our ability to reach a consensus,” Gardner said.
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.”
Most state election officials and election law experts say that U.S. voter fraud is rare. States rejecting the commission’s attempts to gather voter information have called it unnecessary and a violation of privacy.
Tuesday’s meeting was to include discussions on historical voting trends, electronic voting systems and the impact of voter fraud on public confidence in the elections.
In making his claims, Kobach cited statistics showing that 5,313 voters with out-of-state driver’s licenses registered to vote on the day of the election but did not later obtain New Hampshire licenses.
The allegation drew criticism from Democrats who said the data more likely reflected college students from out-of-state who were allowed to vote there with or without a New Hampshire license.
(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Richard Chang and Bill Trott)