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New Hampshire is known for hosting the first-in-the-nation presidential primary. But now, another reputation is gaining steam: as a breeding ground for vote fraud.
The state was one of the first targets of Donald Trump’s claims of illegal voting during the 2016 election — he lost the state by a razor-thin margin (fewer than 2,800 votes). Weeks after he defeated Hillary Clinton, Trump claimed without evidence that the state had "serious voter fraud" and charged that "thousands" of people from Massachusetts were bused into in the Granite State to vote.
Trump's vote fraud panel is coming to New Hampshire on Tuesday for its second public meeting, only days after the commission's vice chairman amplified in an op-ed the president's baseless claims that illegal voting had possibly swayed the election in the state.
"It has long been reported, anecdotally, that out-of-staters take advantage of New Hampshire’s same-day registration and head to the Granite State to cast fraudulent votes," the vice chairman, Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state, wrote on Breitbart last week.
He added that it is "possible that New Hampshire’s four Electoral College votes were swung to Hillary Clinton through illegal voting by nonresidents."
Experts countered that there's no evidence of significant fraud.
"New Hampshire is central to President Trump’s first claim of widespread voter fraud," said Jonathan Brater, counsel with the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, which examines voting rights issues.
“There’s really no evidence of widespread fraud in New Hampshire, but that has not stopped some people from inflating the potential for voter fraud,” he added.
The accusation that people have been bused in from nearby states has been around since at least the mid-1990s, said the chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, Ray Buckley.
"This is a lie that they have convinced themselves because they have not been able to process that Democrats win in New Hampshire,” Buckley told NBC News. "You would think after 20 years of saying it, if it was true, that one of them would have taken a picture of one of the buses. It’s a farce."
In the op-ed, Kobach cited driver's license and voter registration data released last week at the request of New Hampshire's Republican House speaker, Shawn Jasper.
The data showed that over 6,500 people who voted in last year’s election had out-of-state licenses, which experts said is no evidence of voter fraud. State law allows people with non-New Hampshire driver's licenses to live in the state and vote legally.
"These are people who had licenses from other states as millions of people do. They might be students and they might be military," David Becker, an election expert, and the executive director of the Center for Election Innovation & Research, said in a statement. "There can be no conclusions drawn regarding the driver's licenses."
New Hampshire State Rep. Fred Doucette, a Trump supporter, told a local television station that he "personally witnessed" people exiting cars with Massachusetts license plates and voting at local polling stations during the presidential election.
In recent years, the state has passed laws that critics say amount to voter suppression, but advocates argue will tamp down on any improper voting, including a voter ID law and a residency law requiring voters to prove where they live.
"It’s interesting that they (the vote fraud commission) are visiting a place where President Trump has said that there’s widespread illegal voting," said Fergus Cullen, the former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party who opposed Trump during the 2016 election.
"I think the state is being used," he added. "They have already concluded what they plan to conclude, and these are just show trials that they’re having."
New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, a Democrat and a member of the vote fraud commission, has repeatedly denied claims of widespread voter fraud in the state.
Gardner told a local paper this year, "I have no basis to say it’s rampant, and there are ways we can deal with it."