Prosecutor: State can’t investigate all voter fraud claims

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - As President Donald Trump continues to spout unverified claims of illegal voting in New Hampshire, some Republican lawmakers are alleging the Attorney General’s Office isn’t doing enough to investigate potential fraud.

The agency’s response: There’s not enough money.

“We have been quite vocal about the fact that we don’t have enough staff to do all of these investigations,” Deputy Attorney General Ann Rice told a House committee last week.

Despite calls from Gov. Chris Sununu and fellow Republicans to tighten election laws, the governor’s newly released budget fails to fulfill the attorney general’s request for roughly $93,000 annually to hire a full-time elections investigator. The agency says lawmakers haven’t provided it with adequate resources in recent years to handle the volume of complaints.

New Hampshire’s election laws have been in the spotlight as Trump’s administration repeatedly claims — with no evidence — that out-of-state voters routinely participate in New Hampshire elections. The attorney general and secretary of state say no evidence of widespread fraud exists here. But some Republicans say it’s impossible to know if the Attorney General’s Office isn’t investigating every potential violation.

After each election, the Secretary of State’s Office sends out “voter verification” cards to the thousands of people who sign an affidavit when they register in lieu of showing photo ID or other paperwork. The voters are supposed to return the cards to confirm they voted. The Attorney General’s Office is tasked with investigating cards that come back undeliverable or don’t receive a response — more than 5,000 since 2012.

But it hasn’t done so in recent years, and Rice said that’s based on a lack of resources. Republican Rep. Norman Silbur suggested it’s improper for the Attorney General’s Office to say there is no fraud if it hasn’t looked at the cards.

“Does that not indicate the (attorney general) is pre-judging the outcome of the investigation he’s supposed to conduct?” he asked at a hearing last week on a bill that would move the investigation authority to the Secretary of State’s Office.

That bill, sponsored by Republican Rep. Bill Ohm, would give nearly $70,000 annually to the secretary of state to hire an investigator to look into the cards and pass any results of fraudulent voting to the Attorney General’s Office for prosecution. The Attorney General’s Office argues it should receive the money instead.

A Senate bill would provide about $500,000 to the Attorney General’s Office for a fresh focus on elections, lobbying and campaign finance law.

“If we’re going to talk about these issues and talk about the integrity of the system, we ought to put our money where our mouth is,” said Democratic Sen. Dan Feltes, the prime sponsor.

The Secretary of State’s Office says the unreturned cards likely don’t translate into thousands of illegal votes. When the city of Dover reviewed its voter checklist several years ago, there was a valid explanation for hundreds of undeliverable cards, Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan told lawmakers. Still, he said it’s worth verifying the legitimacy of each card and that the Secretary of State’s Office is willing to assist.

Sununu’s office didn’t say why he chose not to fund the elections investigator in his budget. He told New Hampshire Public Radio on Monday that while he’s not seen evidence of voter fraud, he believes the voting laws need to be strengthened.

“The governor’s top priority on this issue is to work with the legislature to strengthen and improve our voting laws,” spokesman Dave Abrams said.

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