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Trump makes groundless N.H. voter fraud claims

President Donald Trump.

Mario Tama/Getty Images

President Donald Trump.

WASHINGTON — President Trump has revived unproven voter fraud allegations, telling a group of senators in a private meeting Thursday that he lost New Hampshire last November because thousands of Massachusetts residents were bused to the neighboring state to cast ballots against him.

The president offered no evidence to support the claim. New Hampshire’s secretary of state, who is in charge of elections in the state, disputed the president’s claims, as did the state’s two US senators, and on Friday night a member of the Federal Election Commission called on Trump to release proof of his charge.

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Trump also said that illegal voting was part of the reason former senator Kelly Ayotte, a Republican, lost. An aide to Ayotte said that she does not believe she lost because of voter fraud.

The claims were made while Trump was meeting in the White House with a bipartisan group of senators. The conversation is further evidence that Trump continues to be focused on the election, which he won despite losing the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by nearly 3 million votes.

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Trump made the comments during a meeting about his Supreme Court pick, Neil Gorsuch, who is being aided by Ayotte. The president told the group that “thousands” of Massachusetts residents were bused in from the Commonwealth to “illegally” vote in the Granite State, according to a person briefed on the meeting. Politico first reported the comments, which were confirmed by the Globe.

The president also referred to Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas,” a jab at her claims of Native American ancestry that dogged her 2012 US Senate campaign, according to Politico. She was not present at the meeting.

Since Trump’s stunning victory in November, he has frequently called into question the legitimacy of the presidential election, repeating the roundly debunked assertion that millions of votes were cast improperly. Those concerns prompted him to task Vice President Mike Pence with heading a commission that will examine the country’s voting system.

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Trump’s claim about the New Hampshire vote also means that he is calling Maggie Hassan, the new Democratic senator who defeated Ayotte by 743 votes, an illegitimate senator.

“President Trump’s completely unsubstantiated claims about voter fraud have been debunked by independent fact checkers time and again,” said Aaron Jacobs, a Hassan spokesman.

Ayotte also doesn’t believe voter fraud cost her the election, according to a former aide who was granted anonymity to speak candidly about a private conversation. The aide said Ayotte does support reexamining requiring residency requirements for voting in the Granite State.

Currently New Hampshire allows potential voters to register the same day as the election as long as they have a government-issued photo ID and sign an oath that they plan to reside in the state. The ID does not have to be from New Hampshire.

Ellen L. Weintraub, one of six FEC commissioners, on Friday night called on Trump to release proof of his “astonishing voter-fraud scheme.”

“The scheme the President of the United States alleges would constitute thousands of felony criminal offenses under New Hampshire law,” she said in a statement. “As a Commissioner on the Federal Election Commission, I am acutely aware that our democracy rests on the faith of the American people in the integrity of their elections.

“The President has issued an extraordinarily serious and specific charge. Allegations of this magnitude cannot be ignored,” she added. “I therefore call upon President Trump to immediately share his evidence with the public and with the appropriate law-enforcement authorities so that his allegations may be investigated promptly and thoroughly.”

Although Trump has complained about the results in New Hampshire and other states before, this is the first time he singled out the Granite State as president. Several weeks after winning the election, as president-elect, Trump posted on Twitter that there was “massive voter fraud” in Virginia, California, and New Hampshire.

In his first few days in office, Trump said that Clinton won the popular vote in the election only because of a voter fraud scheme where millions of undocumented immigrants illegally cast ballots for her. Trump made those comments at the White House during an evening reception with lawmakers and offered no evidence.

Trump lost New Hampshire’s four electoral college votes to Hillary Clinton by less than 3,000 votes. He opted not to ask for a statewide recount in New Hampshire, though he could have done so for $500.

New Hampshire’s secretary of state, Bill Gardner, a Democrat, said he doesn’t believe there was voter fraud in the election.

“We have never gotten any proof about buses showing up at polling places,” Gardner said, suggesting that an unusually large number of voters would have drawn attention. “It’s not in a private place. It’s a public place.”

Out of some 755,000 votes cast in New Hampshire, Gardner said, 1,124 were from voters who either had no identification or were not recognized by poll workers as a local resident. Those voters had to sign an affidavit — stating they were eligible to vote — as well as have their photo taken.

“To take someone’s picture — is someone going to want to have their picture taken if they’re in the midst of illegally voting?” Gardner said. “I don’t know what else we can do.”

Several weeks ago, Gardner’s office sent out postcards to the addresses listed by those 1,124 voters, asking them to sign and return the postcard verifying that they had legally cast ballots. So far, his office has received over 600 of the cards back, meaning about 500 are not yet accounted for.

The idea of buses of voters coming from Massachusetts to vote in New Hampshire is one that has been floated before, but never with any proof. Gardner was once alerted of a bus from Vermont showing up in a western New Hampshire town, but no one provided evidence.

On Election Day, he got a report that a busy precinct had a parking lot full of cars with Massachusetts license plates. When he drove there to check it out, the report was correct. But the people who drove the cars were standing outside with campaign signs, not inside casting ballots.

Scott Brown, shortly after the election, alleged on a Boston Herald radio program that around 100,000 Massachusetts residents voted in New Hampshire in November, and that 40,000 did so in his attempt at a New Hampshire US Senate seat in 2014.

“People from Massachusetts could have gone up and voted that day, and quite frankly some do,” Brown said. “It’s well known, it’s no secret. They basically go up, they don’t have an idea. They walk in, say I want to vote.”

Brown also presented no evidence. He declined to comment for this story.

Gardner said he was growing wary of Trump’s questioning the validity of the election.

“What concerns me is a lot of people think this is the case. How do we change that? Do we change that by yelling at each other: ‘You’re wrong, you’re an idiot, there are buses everywhere?’ 

“Let him have his commission. Let it play out. Let it be put under microscope,” he said. “Let it happen. There might be some proof that it’s nonexistent or that it’s so small. But this constant fight . . . what is that going to accomplish?”

Annie Linskey can be reached at annie.linskey@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @annielinskey.
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