Voting 03 (copy) (copy)

The ballot boxes at the Valley Library are seen on the Oregon State University campus.

Andy Cripe, Gazette-Times

Kris Kobach, the secretary of state in Kansas and the vice chairman of President Donald Trump's commission on electoral integrity, recently reported to Breitbart News that he finally had located the smoking gun — a real example of major voting fraud in the November 2016 election.

In a column he wrote for the Breitbart website, Kobach said it was "highly likely" that the election of Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Maggie Hassan was "stolen through voter fraud."

Kobach said he had uncovered proof that 5,313 people who voted in New Hampshire do not live in the state. The implication there, of course, is that these voters somehow traveled to the state for the sole purpose of voting in the election and thereby tipped the tight election to Hassan. Hillary Clinton also carried the state, by just 2,736 votes.

Indeed, Hassan's victory margin was even narrower — about 1,017 votes out of more than 700,000 cast. So, if Kobach is right, those 5,313 voters could have handed the race to Hassan, who went on to vote against the Republican effort to repeal Obamacare, which (as Kobach reminded us) failed by one vote in the Senate. Case closed.

But here's the problem: Kobach isn't right. And there are some inconvenient facts that he neglected to mention in  his Breitbart column.

First, though, let's lay out the essentials of Kobach's case. It's legal in New Hampshire for people to register to vote on Election Day. Data provided by the state show that 6,540 people registered to vote there on Election Day 2016 by showing an out-of-state ID.

New Hampshire law gives those new voters 60 days to get a state driver's license; yet, Kobach noted, of those 6,540 people who registered on Nov. 7, 5,526 people have not yet obtained a license. And only 213 of those have registered a car in the state. Do the math, Kobach urged: The result is 5,313 fraudulent voters in New Hampshire. Better roll out the legislation making it harder to vote.

Oh, but wait just a second: It turns out that New Hampshire doesn't require people to be residents of the state to vote; they just have to be "domiciled" there, meaning that they live and spend most of their time there. A college student, for example, might fit that description. And, in fact, when The Washington Post started to reach out to the 5,313 suspicious scofflaws, the first four contacted said they were college students who had lived in New Hampshire last November. And, just like that, Kobach's air-tight case starts to evaporate.

When the commission met on Tuesday (in New Hampshire!), press reports suggested Kobach was working hard to distance himself from his earlier claims — and, in fact, said that there was a "high possibility" the commission will make no recommendations when it finishes its work. Even if it does make recommendations, he said, the commission can't force states to adopt them.

We would like to believe that this foolishness will mark the beginning of the end of the commission on electoral integrity. It's been clear from the start that this effort is little more than a smoke screen to make it easier for states (and, possibly, the federal government) to curtail voting rights.

Instead of trying to build specious justifications for legislation that makes it harder for citizens to vote, Kobach's commission could be working to develop ways to modernize voting machines and safeguard election systems against hacking. It could be taking a hard look at how to encourage states to explore virtually hack-proof vote-by-mail systems like the one Oregon uses.

But that would suggest Kobach and the commission actually are interested in finding ways to expand this fundamental building block of our democracy. Unfortunately, the evidence to date suggests that is not at all part of the commission's agenda. (mm)

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