U.S. Senate candidate Don Buldoc, a Republican, resurrected a zombie claim that has been repeatedly debunked about busloads of people coming from out of state to vote illegally in New Hampshire.
“We need to make sure that school buses loaded with people at the polls don’t come in and vote,” Buldoc said during a debate with incumbent Sen. Maggie Hassan on Oct. 27. When pressed for evidence, Buldoc said, “I am saying that that is what Granite Staters are telling me and I think it’s valid.”
It is not valid. Despite being discredited by FactCheck.org and others, the claim has persisted among some Republicans for years. Chief among them has been former President Donald Trump, who praised Buldoc’s mention of the bogus claim while endorsing him this week.
“He was a strong and proud ‘Election Denier,’ a big reason that he won the Nomination, but he then disavowed,” Trump wrote on Truth Social on Oct. 31 about Buldoc. “He has since come back, at least on busing, but that is only a small part of N.H. Election Fraud.”
Trump has been making the baseless claim for years, saying it cost him a victory in New Hampshire in 2016. Trump lost the state, and its four electoral votes, by a razor-thin 2,736 votes.
As far back as February 2017, Trump reportedly told a group of senators in a private meeting that he lost New Hampshire in the 2016 general election because “thousands” of Massachusetts residents were “brought in on buses” to cast illegal votes against him. And he has repeated it numerous times since.
For instance, Trump said in an interview with the Daily Caller in November 2018: “If you look at what happened in New Hampshire, where thousands of people came up and voted from a very liberal part of Massachusetts and they came up in buses and they voted. I said, ‘What’s going on over here?’ My people said, ‘You won New Hampshire easily except they have tremendous numbers of buses coming up.’ They’re pouring up by the hundreds, buses of people getting out, voting.” He went on to repeat the claim numerous other times in the lead-up to the 2020 election.
After the 2020 election, Trump again claimed that “massive Election Fraud” took place in New Hampshire.
Sununu said in May 2021 that an audit of state voting results “is proof that New Hampshire’s voting process is the most reliable, safe, and secure in the country, and that we will ensure every last vote is accurately accounted for.”
In 2018, the New Hampshire state attorney general’s office looked into ongoing claims about busloads of out-of-state people coming to vote in New Hampshire and found no evidence of it. In some cases, the investigation found out-of-state buses were being used to transport legal in-state voters to the polls.
Concord Monitor, May 29, 2018: Responding to questioning by members of the state Ballot Law Commission on Tuesday, Associate Attorney General Anne Edwards said the office received multiple complaints in 2014 of buses with out-of-state license plates dropping voters off at the polls. Those reports fueled accusations that political parties were taking advantage of New Hampshire’s same-day voting laws to transport voters from Democratic-leaning states like Massachusetts and Vermont – claims that have persisted for years and have been repeated by members of the Trump administration.
The attorney general’s office has found no evidence of improper out-of-state voters, Edwards said. But the buses were real.
“What happens is at college campuses, the political parties will rent buses to move the college students around to the polling places so that they can vote, and the buses are usually out-of-state,” Edwards told the commission.
After a range of complaints, and several on-site inspections of polling places in 2014, investigators ruled out any cases of wrongdoing.
“They’ve been able to determine that the situation is that the bus company is from Vermont or Massachusetts, but not the voters on the bus,” Edwards said.
According to a WMUR story the same day, the secretary of state’s office spent more than 800 hours investigating the issue, and in a presentation to the Ballot Law Commission reported that it had found no evidence of widespread fraud. Of the 6,033 people who registered the day of the election, “secretary of state’s office verified that all but 458 cases were legitimate New Hampshire voters, and referred those 458 cases to the attorney general’s office. The attorney general’s office was able to verify that 392 of those voters were in fact domiciled in New Hampshire and registered and voted properly.” Among the remaining 66 voters, the attorney general was not able to prove that any of them voted unlawfully.
The ongoing conspiracy theory about out-of-state voters being bused into New Hampshire is fairly unique to the state because of its same-day voter registration policy. That means eligible voters can show up and vote on Election Day even without an ID if they sign an affidavit attesting that New Hampshire is their “domicile,” and they get a photo taken. And so it is possible for someone who only moved to the state a week before to legally vote there. The law also allows students attending college in New Hampshire to vote in New Hampshire, although it would still be illegal to vote in more than one state.
The policy was implemented by the state Legislature in 1996 by a Republican majority to get around the federal motor voter law, which requires states to offer voter registration at the DMV when people get their driver’s licenses or at state agencies that provide public assistance.
The state has ways to make sure people from out of state are not abusing the law.
The state sends out a verification mailing to those who sign domicile applications, David Scanlan, secretary of state for New Hampshire, told us in 2017 (when he was the deputy secretary of state). Those that come back as undeliverable are referred to the attorney general for investigation. Every election, he said, state officials have come across a few cases of voter fraud. But, he said, “We really don’t have any evidence of any organized effort from another state to send people to try to change the outcome of the vote.”
Voter fraud also carries severe penalties. Voting by a person who is knowingly unqualified to vote is a class B felony in New Hampshire, and the court can impose a maximum range of between three-and-a-half years and seven years in prison and a fine of up to $2,000. A violation also could carry a civil penalty.
In June, Sununu signed a law that requires those registering to vote for the first time on Election Day without an ID to vote via provisional ballots and then provide proof of their identity within seven days. The vote of anyone who fails to provide proof would be rejected. But the law does not go into effect until 2023, and it is currently being challenged by voting rights groups.
Although these conspiracy theories about busloads of out-of-state residents have been around for decades, the logistics of the conspiracy don’t hold up to common sense, Fergus Cullen, a former chair of the New Hampshire Republican Party in 2007-2008 and current Dover City councilor, told us in a phone interview. You’d need to organize a lot of out-of-state buses, and make sure none of them were photographed (a virtual impossibility in the cell phone age, he said). Everyone would need to keep quiet about it, because there could be no witnesses. And local voting officials would have to ignore such a spectacle.
“The absence of evidence is proof of the vastness of the conspiracy for those who want to believe,” Cullen said.
In 2017, Cullen offered to pay $1,000 to anyone who could bring proof of just one voter who used a bus to come from Massachusetts and vote in New Hampshire. The “reward” money was never claimed.
— Fergus Cullen (@FergusCullen) February 10, 2017
Cullen made the same offer prior to the 2020 election. Again, there were no takers.
I am renewing my offer to pay $1000 to the first person who can prove that even one out-of-state person took a bus from anywhere in Massachusetts to any New Hampshire polling place and voted illegally in the Nov 2020 election #nhpolitics 1/5 pic.twitter.com/6X74DN0nnF
— Fergus Cullen (@FergusCullen) November 1, 2020
It’s a standing offer, he told us. So, he challenged the conspiracy theorists to get their cameras ready on Election Day.
At the debate, one of the moderators followed up with Buldoc, “Just to be clear, you’re claiming that buses full of voters who are not permitted to vote here, you’re claiming that that happened in New Hampshire?”
“I am claiming that that is what Granite Staters tell me,” Buldoc said. “And I’m saying we need to respond to that.”
Given that Buldoc has spent several years talking to Republican voters, “I’m sure he does hear a lot of this from people,” Cullen said.
Although state elections officials and law enforcement say there’s never been any evidence to back up the claim about out-of-state voters coming to New Hampshire by the busload, Cullen said the claim “is almost ubiquitous now.”
Trump’s repeated comments have given the claim life, he said.
“As a result, a significant number of people believe it, and repeat it,” Cullen said. “And so the conspiracy about buses has only spread wider in recent years.”
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