Kris Kobach gets public dressing-down over Breitbart column

New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, right, introduces one of the speakers at a meeting of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017 in Manchester, NH. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, center, and former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, left, also attend. Gardner opened the meeting by defending his participation and the panel's existence, saying it hasn't yet reached any conclusion. (AP Photo/Holly Ramer)

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach received a public dressing-down Tuesday over a column he wrote last week for Breitbart News, and Kobach himself backed away from some of what he said.

In the Sept. 7 article, Kobach said out-of-state voters “likely” changed — through voter fraud — the outcome of New Hampshire’s 2016 U.S. Senate race, in which Democrat Maggie Hassan unseated incumbent Republican Kelly Ayotte by fewer than 800 votes.

Kobach pointed to New Hampshire’s same-day registration law as a weakness in its election security because more than 6,000 same-day registrants used out-of-state driver’s licenses to vote in New Hampshire.

Fourteen other states have same-day registration, something that Kobach has said he vehemently opposes. But New Hampshire’s law is somewhat complicated because the Granite State makes a distinction between being a “resident” of the state and being “domiciled” in the state.

The law says a voter must be domiciled in the state, but it is possible to be domiciled without necessarily being a resident. A college student, for example, can be domiciled in New Hampshire without necessarily being a resident. The law has been challenged in New Hampshire courts, and the state’s Legislature has been working for some time to address technical issues in the statute.

The article sparked widespread controversy because it was published just one week before President Trump’s Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, of which Kobach is vice chair, was to meet in New Hampshire. In fact, New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, a Democrat, came under pressure at home to resign from the commission in protest over Kobach’s comments.

Gardner did not resign, but he did use Tuesday’s commission meeting as an opportunity to publicly chide Kobach for his article.

“The problem that has occurred because of what you wrote is that the question of whether our election as we have recorded it is real and valid, and it is real and valid,” Gardner said, prompting applause from the audience.

“The first couple of meetings that we had, the chairman of the commission (Vice President Mike Pence) made it very clear to us that we work in a consensus (manner) and that we work in a way that we don’t have any preconceived, preordained ideas about what the facts are going to turn out to be, that we’re going to use facts, we’re going to search for the truth, and that is something that we all need to stay focused on,” Gardner added.

He went on to say the distinction between being a resident and being “domiciled” in the state is difficult for many people to grasp, and that is one of the things the New Hampshire Legislature is trying to resolve.

Kobach, a former law professor who is now running for governor in Kansas, had earlier given a lengthy, legalistic explanation of the law. And he appeared to back away from some of the comments he made in the Breitbart article, saying that he was trying to explain a complicated legal issue into an 800-word article.

But Kobach also insisted that New Hampshire’s same-day registration law made it easy for people from outside New Hampshire to engage in what some people call “drive-by voting.” He added that when he was a student at Harvard he volunteered for then-Sen. Bob Dole’s 1988 presidential campaign, and he knew students who would have been willing to drive to New Hampshire and vote, if the law had been in place at that time.

But Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, a Democrat whose office is in charge of both elections and driver’s licenses, slammed the idea that there is any connection between a person’s driver’s license and his or her eligibility to vote.

“There is utterly no connectivity between motor vehicle law and election law,” Dunlap said. “Primarily, you have a right to vote. Driving is a privilege. We can take away your driver’s license, and we do that about 85,000 times a year.”

“So making this equation that somehow people not updating their driver’s licenses is an indicator of voter fraud is almost as absurd as saying that if you have cash in your wallet, that’s proof that you robbed a bank,” Dunlap said.