Sununu’s history of conspiratorial thinking on voter fraud

Governor Chris Sununu has a history of taking radical positions on voter fraud.

In the run-up to his election, Sununu made a bogus claim, one that President Trump has since repeated, that Democratic electoral victories in New Hampshire are the result of busloads of illegal voters. This tendency toward conspiracy by Governor Sununu and his fellow Republicans has led to the introduction of some bills in the State House that would disenfranchise certain younger or vulnerable voters by instituting a modern-day poll tax and creating bureaucratic obstacles to voting. Governor Sununu has already enacted one of these bills, SB 3, into law.

While Sununu once paid lip service to the idea of opposing laws that would suppress the vote, his evasive language has done little to assure New Hampshire residents that he would actually veto any voter suppression law that the legislature sends him. Sununu’s recent comments suggest that he is trying to maneuver politically in an attempt to avoid taking blame for distorting the democratic process while giving Republicans an electoral advantage.

2016 Election

A week before the 2016 election, we got a peek at Governor Sununu’s true beliefs about voter fraud in New Hampshire. Sununu claimed that Democratic electoral victories in New Hampshire were the result of illegal voting by Massachusetts residents brought into the state on buses. On the Howie Carr show, Sununu said:

“When Massachusetts elections are not very close… they’re busing them in all over the place.”

Days later in a gubernatorial debate, Sununu clarified that he doesn’t think that people from Massachusetts are coming into New Hampshire to vote in literal buses, but reasserted that he believes voter fraud is a common occurence, saying:

“I don’t want to imply I see buses coming over… More of a figure of speech that people are coming over, they’re temporarily here, they vote and then they leave.”

The non-partisan fact-checking website Politifact called Sununu’s claim “ridiculous” and rated it “Pants on Fire.”

After President Trump repeated Sununu’s baseless claim of illegal voting in New Hampshire, Sununu said that he would be “happy to talk about that and take a look at” any evidence Trump might have.

Just after Sununu won the 2016 election, he announced that he would be willing to end the practice of same-day voter registration. This time, he denied that a belief in widespread illegal voting was his motivation for supporting legislation that would make it harder for college students to vote, instead saying:

“We just need our laws tighter. It’s not about fraud and a rigged system… it’s really just about making sure that our rules are clear.”

Trump Voter Fraud Commission

President Trump, eager to justify his popular vote loss in the 2016 election, picked up and ran with Sununu’s bogus claims about busloads illegal voters swinging elections in New Hampshire. Repeating the remark Governor Sununu made just before the election, Trump blamed his loss in the Granite State specifically on his belief that voters were bused into the state from Massachusetts. In May, Trump signed an executive order to establish The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity to investigate his and Sununu’s conspiracy theories.

Despite Trump’s lack of evidence for his claims of voter fraud and the obvious partisan motivations behind the formation of his commission, Sununu advocated for New Hampshire to share its voter file with the commission. At the same time, he tried to change the record of his previous statements of voter fraud, saying “I’ve always said, we have no evidence of voter fraud in this state,” and ignoring the fact that his own unfounded claims of illegal voting were a major factor in Trump’s decision to create the commission.

The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity closed down in January after finding no evidence to support Trump or Sununu’s baseless allegations.

SB 3

In July, Governor Sununu avoided the usual public ceremony that accompanies most high-profile bills when he signed SB 3 into law. SB 3 is New Hampshire Republicans’ first attempt to suppress the votes of young or vulnerable residents of New Hampshire and the first voter suppression bill of the Trump era. The legality of the bill is currently being challenged in court by the New Hampshire Democratic Party.

These are SB 3’s provisions:

  • Creates two different forms for those registering more than 30 days out from an election and those registering within the 30-day period
  • Denies those without paperwork the right to register more than 30 days out from an election
  • Forces registrants to read & sign a long & confusing document that comprehension experts say is written at a graduate-student reading level
  • Lengthens lines and dissuades voters from turning out due to the longer and more complicated same-day registration requirements
  • Mandates that voters who signed an affidavit bring evidence to verify their intent to remain in the state within 10 days after an election
  • Subjects those who failed to deliver that evidence within 10 days to investigation and possible civil and criminal penalty and a $5,000 fine
  • Appoints investigators, who could be anyone from police to the town conspiracist, to come to your door as part of a voter fraud investigation against you

HB 372 & HB 1264

More recently, another bill aimed at obstructing the voting rights of young people living in New Hampshire, HB 372, passed the New Hampshire House and Senate, and now must be reconsidered by the House before it is potentially sent to Governor Sununu for his signature or veto. HB 372 would create a modern day poll tax by forcing New Hampshire voters to pay to register their cars and obtain and New Hampshire driver’s license in order to vote.

Sununu was confronted early in this process by a student activist who asked him about HB 372. Sununu responded by saying “I hate it” and “I’m hoping that the legislature kills it.” When pressed to commit a veto, Sununu reiterated his opposition but stopped just short of promising a veto, saying “I will never support anything that suppresses the student vote.”

HB 372 passed in the House, and despite Sununu’s opposition, it passed in the Senate with the support of every Senate Republican. Sununu responded to this with a verbal trick, saying he remained opposed to the bill “as it is currently written,” leaving himself room to support the bill with only minor cosmetic changes.

In the period following HB 372’s passage in the Senate, Sununu has taken steps to back away from his opposition to the bill and put himself in a position to enact it into law.

Does Sununu still “hate” HB 372? This is what he said:

“I do believe that firming up the definitions of domicile vs residence… is critical, you have to do that… I’ve asked the legislature to go back and really explore a lot of those ideas, we’ll see what the final bill comes to bear.”

Asked directly “do you plan to veto that bill?” Sununu replied:

“Well, I don’t know what it will look like when it finally gets here, it still has go through a couple steps… I’d like to see some things tightened up and we’ll be working with the committee of conference potentially, and the folks in the House, to see if we can get somewhere where we feel comfortable.”

Recently, the Republican-controlled New Hampshire State House passed HB 1264, which would do the exact same thing as HB 372. Rather than coming out against HB 1264, Sununu’s office said he was “monitoring it.” This is an attempt by Sununu to distance himself from his earlier opposition to voter suppression.

Usually when Chris Sununu says he’s “monitoring” something, it means he knows his position on the issue is radical and unpopular, and he’d like to avoid actually stating his position for as long as possible.

Watch Governor Sununu’s evolution on these bills: