By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD — As he signaled last month, Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed a bill that would change the date of the state primary from September to August.
Under House Bill 98, the date of the state primary would be the first Tuesday in August instead of the second Tuesday in September.
In his veto message, the governor said the change would move the election and campaign season into the middle of summer.
“This is a time when many Granite Staters are enjoying their vacations and are far less likely to be involved in the electoral process,” Sununu wrote in his veto message. “This change could lead to depressed voter engagement in the election and reduced turnout.”
The bill had bipartisan support in the House and Senate and supporters said it would help level the playing field for challengers with little time to mend party fences, raise money or get their message out, while incumbents have name recognition, and an existing fund raising apparatus.
Under the current schedule, the time between the primary and the general election is seven or eight weeks.
Bill supporters also said the current date makes it difficult to meet federal requirements for sending absentee ballots to military members overseas.
But Sununu said Secretary of State Bill Gardner said New Hampshire is one of the few states never sued for failing to meet the deadline.
And the governor noted the bill would give the Secretary of State’s office nine fewer days between the end of the filing period and when ballots need to be printed than the current system.
Senate Minority Leader Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, said the final bill was the result of extensive bipartisan work and compromise.
“Despite the Governor’s statement to the contrary, states that have made similar changes to their primary date have seen similar or increased voter turnout,” Soucy said. “It is disappointing that rather than working to improve upon our election system, the Governor would instead choose to ignore the will of the voters, and put New Hampshire at risk of being out of compliance with federal law.”
The House-passed bill, with the prime sponsor former state Republican Party executive director, Rep. Joe Sweeney, R-Salem, was approved on a 195-147 vote, and would have held the primary on the fourth Tuesday in June.
The Senate changed the primary date to the second Tuesday in August and passed the bill on a voice vote, but a conference committee set the date as the first Tuesday in August.
The final proposal passed the Senate on a voice vote and the House on a 192-183 vote.
But Sununu in his veto message quoted Gardner as saying the change in date would add significant challenges to the process.
“New Hampshire’s elections are the gold standard for the rest of the country, and our primary date schedule has stood the test of time,” Sununu said.
The new date would begin with the 2024 primary and not the 2022 primary to give election officials time to adjust to the new schedule.
Garry Rayno may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.