By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
After President Joe Biden’s inauguration this week, and the change in administrations, it is interesting to note that in the last 28 years, Republicans have won the popular vote for president once in seven races, yet have held the land’s highest office for 12 of those years.
The electoral college system has a great deal to do with the abnormality, which is related to how the founding fathers constructed the legislative branch to account for both population and protection for small states.
That arrangement, along with a hefty dose of gerrymandering, has resulted in a federal government controlled by the minority until the most recent election in Georgia which gave Democrats — barely — control of the presidency, U.S. Senate and U.S. House.
In New Hampshire, while the state’s Congressional races were won by Democrats, the party lost control of the Executive Council, Senate and House.
GOP Gov. Chris Sununu was the largest vote getter in New Hampshire, a position often held by U.S. Senate Jeanne Shaheen when she is up for election, but not this time.
But voter registration in New Hampshire shows more registered Democrats than Republicans, although both trail independent or undeclared voters by far as has been the case for decades.
In New Hampshire undeclared voters determine who wins.
Going by voter registrations after the general election in statistics released by the Secretary of State’s Office, the states 1.2 million voters break down as 333,165 Republicans, 347,828 Democrats and 438,239 undeclared voters.
That translates into 39 percent undeclared, 31 percent Democrat and 30 percent Republican.
The record-breaking general election — 814,499 — had an increase of 108,690 voters over the record-breaking primary when 303,193 ballots were cast, 155,956 in the Democratic contest and 147,237 in the GOP.
That is an increase of 511,306 voters or more than half of all registered voters in the state.
Comparing the breakdown of registered voters after the primary to those after the general election shows what might have been one reason Democrats lost control of the Executive Council, Senate and House.
After the primary there were 1.01 million people registered to vote, 306,954 Republicans, 328,488 Democrats and 375,100 undeclared.
The percentages are 30 percent Republican, 32 percent Democrats and 37 percent undeclared.
Comparing the two elections, Republicans held their percentage at 30 percent, but Democrats went down 2 percent after the general election, which resulted in a 2 percent increase in the undeclared category.
Of the 108,690 increase in registrations, 58 percent were undeclared, 24 percent Republican and 18 percent Democrats.
Although Democrats continue to outnumber Republicans in registrations, that is not a trend the Democrats should like.
Voter registration drives this year were very different between Republicans and Democrats.
Democrats ran a mostly virtual registration effort trying to minimize face-to-face events due to the coronavirus pandemic, while Republicans ran a more traditional campaign with events and activities in the flesh.
Many communities had significant same-day registrations near the end of the polling hours and almost all of it favored Republicans in districts with close state Senate races.
Both sides are known to bank new registrations for late in the polling hours, but this general election, Republicans greatly out-performed Democrats.
For the general election, 75,612 people registered to vote election day, while 9,319 registered to vote on primary day.
What is also interesting for the primary election is 149,157 undeclared voters took ballots, which is almost half of all votes cast that day 303,193.
The party breakdown showed 44,101 asked for a Democratic ballot, or 30 percent, 39,866 for a Republican ballot, or 26 percent and 65,189 returned to undeclared status before leaving the polling place. That was 44 percent of the independents who voted.
This year in the legislature, a bill would end the state’s same-day registration which was put in place to avoid the Help America Vote Act which required states to register new voters through their motor vehicle division or what is known as motor-voter.
Same day voting has always been one of the things New Hampshire touts when it defends its place in the Presidential selection process with the first primary.
And given the results from the last election, it is difficult to see why either party would want to change it.
The last election was also unique in that voters could receive an absentee ballot if they were concerned about going to the polls during the pandemic.
So essentially the last election and the ones coming up for towns, cities and schools had or will have absentee balloting on demand, something that has failed to pass the legislature in many attempts.
However, absentee balloting accounted for 30 percent of the primary vote, or 90,001 absentee ballots cast, 42 percent Democratic and 16 percent Republican.
In the general election, about three times the number of absentee ballots were cast compared to the primary, 260,217 of the 814,499 votes, or 32 percent.
The county with the highest percentage of absentee ballots was Carroll with 37 percent, and the lowest was Coos at 24 percent.
The second highest was Rockingham with 35 percent and second lowest Sullivan with 26 percent.
The percentage in other six counties was Belknap, 28 percent; Cheshire, 28 percent; Grafton, 31 percent; Hillsborough, 31 percent; Merrimack, 31 percent, and Strafford, 32 percent.
The conventional wisdom is Democrats make greater use of absentee balloting, but the two highest counties both have significantly more Republicans than Democrats while counties with more Democrats are in the middle of the pack reflecting the overall percentage.
Everyone certainly hopes the pandemic is over for the next statewide elections in two years with the vaccine now available.
But the 2020 election results would indicate the argument that greater absentee voting would give Democrats an advantage is going to be difficult to sell to the public.
What will have more of an effect on the next election is how the Republican-controlled legislature redraws the state’s political boundaries.
Republicans have redrawn the boundaries for a century and as a political exercise it is done for the majority party’s advantage.
Although Democrats outnumber Republicans in registrations, it will take blue waves on the national level to change party control of the State House in Concord.
That is why Sununu’s vetoes of two bills establishing an independent redistricting commission, although the first one had bipartisan support, were important because they give his party the traditional advantage it has had.
Garry Rayno may be reached at email@example.com.
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.