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Editorial: N.H. Democrats Are Off Point on Voter Fraud

Those who regard themselves as gifted in the art of political warfare might want to ponder a news story that appeared in the Union Leader last week: Sebastian Bradley, the son of New Hampshire Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, reportedly voted twice in the 2008 election — once in Colorado, where he was a college student, and once in New Hampshire, by absentee ballot. The question for would-be political operatives: How would you handle this juicy little tidbit to maximize its political advantage at a time when the issue of voter fraud is one of the many lines dividing Democrats and Republicans?

The correct answer: not as the New Hampshire Democrats did or, to be more precise, not as their spokesman, Harrell Kirstein, did.

“They’ve been making claims about voter fraud all summer, pointing to totally bogus and nonexistent instances,” Kirstein said. “... It’s shameful and it’s a new low in partisan hypocrisy for New Hampshire Republicans.”

There are two major problems with such a statement, which is otherwise fairly typical of those that political operatives issue almost daily in terms of being equally overstated and unconvincing. First and perhaps foremost, is that it seems at odds, at least in spirit, with the firmly established position of the Democratic Party. That view is that voting fraud is a concocted issue: It happens so infrequently that the various proposals advocated by Republicans in states such as New Hampshire have less to do with protecting the integrity of the ballot than with erecting barriers at the polls to groups likely to vote against Republicans, including students.

Attaching any significance to an alleged case of voter fraud confuses what is otherwise a clear, and we believe correct, position: Widespread voter fraud is a non-issue. A more effective statement would note that if Sebastian Bradley did indeed vote twice in 2008, he would be among only a handful of people who have abused the privilege and then cite the various statistics that demonstrate how rare such fraud is. It would then raise the question of whether it makes sense to implement measures that could well discourage legitimate voters from exercising their most basic political right as a way of stopping a very small number of dishonest people.

The second problem is the statement’s embedded accusation of “partisan hypocrisy,” which Kirstein elaborated on by saying, “It’s concerning that somebody so close to Majority Leader Bradley would engage in this kind of illegal behavior.”

Not really. Unless the older Bradley was aware of his son’s alleged fondness for casting multiple ballots, it says absolutely nothing about the majority leader (who in 2008 was attempting to recapture the U.S. House seat he had lost to Carol Shea-Porter). In fact, what the statement did was provide an invitation to Republican operatives to deflect attention by faulting the Democrats for overreaching. “(I)t is outrageous and disgusting that the New Hampshire Democrat Party would openly target the child of an elected official and use them as fodder for their cheap political attacks,” said New Hampshire GOP Executive Director Matt Slater.

“Disgusting” may overstate the case, but the statement is tactically on target. The Democrats overplayed their hand.

So how should the Democrats have played this one? When all is said and done, the fact that the son of a prominent Republican politician may have engaged in voter fraud falls somewhere between mildly interesting and essentially meaningless. Why not figure out how to outline the essential and embarrassing facts while saying nothing at all? For that model, we offer a statement from the elder Bradley: “My son Sebastian was a student in 2008 at Colorado State University in Colorado, and if he did indeed vote in New Hampshire and Colorado in the same election, that would be a mistake.”