By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
The 2020 state primary election is history and now it is on to the general election in what is expected to be one like no other.
The battle between Democrats and Republicans will be fierce, probably vicious and one that takes no prisoners.
But before moving on, the biggest story from the primary is not Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes defeating Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination nor attorney Corky Messner defeating Retired Brig. General Don Bolduc for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, but the record turnout for the primary.
Much time and work went into determining how best to hold a safe and secure statewide election in the middle of a pandemic that has infected 7 million Americans and caused 200,000 deaths.
Many people do not feel safe in crowds and this primary had hotly contested races for the Democrats and Republicans.
Along with the Democratic gubernatorial contest and the GOP U.S. Senate race, there were races for both Congressional seats for Republicans as well as two wide open Executive Council seats and numerous state Senate and House races.
The contests also included some Presidential meddling when President Trump endorsed Messner in the GOP U.S. Senate race and former administration official Matt Mowers in the race for the 1st Congressional District Republican nomination.
And one of the stalwarts of the state’s political scene for three decades, U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, is running for re-election and always puts together a campaign machine built to turn out voters.
All that interest made for a remarkable primary under the cloud cover of the coronavirus as New Hampshire citizens voted in droves to shatter the state’s record for a primary election, which was set two years ago with 228,432 voters.
The 2018 figure includes about 1,200 Libertarians that did not have a primary this year.
Comparing Democrats and Republicans only for the two years, the 2020 primary saw 304,671 voters cast ballots, while the two parties combined for 227,064 voters in the 2018 primary, an increase of 77,607.
Comparing increases by parties, Republicans had an increase of 47,105 ballots cast and Democrats 30,502 using figures from the Secretary of State’s Office.
Overall there were 156,976 Democratic ballots cast in the 2020 primary, and 147,695 Republican ballots.
The Secretary of State’s Office has not released more detailed figures of which party’s ballot undeclared voters requested in the primary and how many returned to undeclared status. That is usually one of the last pieces of accounting done after the official race figures are completed.
Where were the biggest increase in voters – in the biggest counties.
Rockingham County had about 20,000 more voters this election, with Republicans adding about 14,000 of the total.
Hillsborough County saw an 18,000 increase in voters, again with Republicans accounting for 12,000 of the increase.
Merrimack County had 10,000 more ballots cast than two years ago, split about evenly although a few more Democrats account for the additional ballots.
Grafton County had an increase of a little less than 7,000 voters, with Democrats accounting for about 4,000 of the increase.
In Strafford County, about 6,000 more votes were cast with Republicans accounting for a little more than half.
Other county increases over the 2018 primary were Belknap, about 4,800; Carroll, about 2,200; Cheshire, about 4,500; Coos, about 2,900; and Sullivan, about 3,000 more voters.
As a percentage, Coos had the greatest increase at 63 percent, while Carroll had the smallest increase at 20 percent.
The Hillsborough increase was 29 percent, Rockingham’s increase was 38 percent, Merrimack 36 percent, Strafford 28 percent, Sullivan 45 percent, Grafton 47 percent, Cheshire 35 percent, and Belknap 42 percent.
Along with the record number of voters, those casting absentee ballots also blew through the old record.
Last Tuesday, voters cast 90,322 absentee ballots, or about 10 times the usual amount for a primary.
This year, the law was temporarily changed to allow voting by absentee ballot if a voter fears infection from COVID-19, so he or she can avoid going to the polls.
Democrats took far greater advantage of the change than Republicans.
Democrats cast 66,651 or 42 percent of all Democratic ballots
Republicans cast 23,671 or 16 percent of the Republican vote.
Another change for voting this year, allowed election officials to begin processing the absentee ballots which means they could open the outer envelope and mark the checklist but not open the second envelope and actually count the ballots.
Counting had to be done after the polls closed.
In the general election, voters will cast at least double if not nearly triple the number of ballots as the primary, particularly in such a contested presidential race.
The primary was a good trial run for what lies ahead for the general election.
While the major issues with voting were few, there were a number of complaints that were quickly addressed by the Secretary of State’s Office or the Attorney General’s Office.
One big change in the general election now the intramurals are over, party representatives will challenge far more ballots during the general election and that will bring more complaints.
Both parties like to have observers at every polling place in the state.
What do all these numbers mean?
Well it is hard to say, but it is clear both parties are geared up for this election.
Two years ago Democrats were more enthusiastic than Republicans and took control of the House, Senate and Executive Council in the general election.
If both parties continue to be fired up for the next two months, that will be more difficult to achieve this year.
But with hotly contested races up and down the ballot, there is no reason not to vote Nov. 3, COVID-19 or not.
The primary election proved the time-honored process can be done safely for election workers and officials, and voters.
New Hampshire will no doubt continue its tradition of having one of the best turnouts of any state in the general election.
Vote like our democracy depends on it, because it does.
Garry Rayno may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Distant Dome by veteran journalist Garry Rayno explores a broader perspective on the State House and state happenings for InDepthNH.org. Over his three-decade career, Rayno covered the NH State House for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Foster’s Daily Democrat. During his career, his coverage spanned the news spectrum, from local planning, school and select boards, to national issues such as electric industry deregulation and Presidential primaries. Rayno lives with his wife Carolyn in New London.
InDepthNH.org is New Hampshire’s only nonprofit, online news outlet dedicated to reporting ethical, unbiased news and diverse opinions and columns.