By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
MANCHESTER – Secretary of State David M. Scanlan offered the press a class on the New Hampshire first-in-the-nation primary at Saint Anselm College Institute of Politics Tuesday afternoon and answered questions on what to expect on that election day and night, likely in January.
Members of the media, both local and national, veterans and first-timers got to hear from the state’s top election leader what happens in the state’s 308 voting precincts before, during and after the votes are cast.
All votes, he noted, are cast on paper, rather than in other states where electronic machines may be used. While some have counting machines, many are hand counted, and they all end up at his office, thanks to State Police, who collect them in the wee hours after the election.
Scanlan said he has not decided what the date of the primary will be but it is expected in early 2024.
State law requires New Hampshire to have its primary before any other.
In the past it has not been an issue and the Republican Party seems satisfied with the process the way it is, he said.
But on the Democratic side, Scanlan said, there has been open frustration that other states are not able “to knock New Hampshire off its perch.”
One of his goals, he said, is to stand up and articulate the argument for keeping the status quo.
He said Democratic President Joe Biden has not filed for re-election in New Hampshire yet, though he is running for re-election and will likely be on the general election ballot in November 2024, but if he wants to be on the primary, he has until Friday to show up or send it in the mail by Thursday.
After the primer wrapped up, Biden’s reelection campaign notified the New Hampshire Democratic Party Tuesday evening that Biden won’t be submitting a Declaration of Candidacy for New Hampshire’s primary ahead of Friday’s filing deadline, but will be on the November 2024 ballot.
Biden drew ire when he proposed New Hampshire and Nevada share second place on the primary calendar. The Democratic National Committee changed the primary calendar giving South Carolina first place.
Regardless, New Hampshire plans to hold its primary first as always and as set in state law.
On hearing the news, New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley said: “The reality is that Joe Biden will win the New Hampshire first-in-the-nation primary in January, win renomination in Chicago and will be re-elected next November.
“New Hampshire voters know and trust Joe Biden, that’s why he is leading Trump in New Hampshire by double digits,” Buckley said.
Tried and True
Scanlan assured members of the press that the primary process here is tried and true.
“There are checks and balances at play,” he said. “That should help give (voters) confidence in the process.”
Scanlan also defended the state’s primary status, despite recent criticism it is too white and too rich, particularly this past year coming from the Democratic National Party.
“There really is no state that truly reflects the makeup of America. I don’t think New Hampshire should apologize for its ethnic makeup…that’s not what this is about,” Scanlan said.
Instead, he said, it is about the opportunity for any candidate to run for the nation’s highest office,
First a Republican legislator for 16 years, Scanlan then served for the past 20 years as Deputy Secretary of State under Bill Gardner before he retired.
Scanlan was elected by the legislature to fill the seat and will serve in the top role for the first time this cycle after observing five and said he benefited from watching Gardner over the years.
Gardner did not host such media gatherings in the past but Scanlan decided to offer the primer as a way to get ahead of questions that may come his way.
New Hampshire has held a presidential primary since 1916 and has been first since 1920.
While a small state, it has helped it keep its status, he said, geographically it’s easy to traverse, it has a small media market, is a “purple” state politically (with 30 percent registered Republicans, 30 percent Democrats and 40 percent Independent) and has regular high voter turnout.
According to the 2020 Census, the state population is 1,377,529. There are 265,159 Republican voters, 269,766 Democrats and the other 40 percent are Undeclared. Undeclared or independent voters are able to choose which ballot to take at the primary while Democrats and Republicans are locked in to their respective parties.
Turnout has been outstanding in the past and among the highest in the nation by state.
In the last four presidential primaries, the state had the third highest voter turnout by percentage of its registered population.
There are differences, Scanlan noted, indicating filing fees are $20,000 per candidate in South Carolina or a huge number of petitioners, whereas in New Hampshire, it is $1,000 or the signatures of 10 voters from each county.
In Michigan, he said, parties determine who has enough recognition to be placed on the ballot. Lesser knowns must collect a huge number of petition signatures to get on.
Nevada is still trying to formulate a process, he said, and at the present, does not have much of a fee.
The primary, he said, “is really important to New Hampshire’s culture and identity.”
New Hampshire election officials are also elected from moderator to clerk, three supervisors of the checklist and three members on the select board, Scanlan said.
They must be voters of that community, he noted.
Only supervisors of the checklist have the power to add or subtract names to the voter checklist. They are elected for six years per term, among the longest serving of elected terms.
State laws say selectmen of each town and ward shall provide a suitable place for voters to cast ballots including good lighting, voting booths, enough parking, and be accessible for those with disabilities.
The Secretary of State is the one who prepares ballots. He said New Hampshire is not a motor voter state.
While most other states are required to comply with 1993 “motor voter” act, the state is exempt because it has same-day registration.
“In NH every voter has to appear before their local election official. So there is a face-to-face interaction,” with a few exceptions, like absentee.
New Hampshire has 13 cities, 221 towns, 26 unincorporated places and 308 physical polling places.
Widespread fraud is not something we have here, he said.
“You hear about people coming up on buses,” from out of state, “we have never seen any evidence of that.”
Political party appointments serve as ballot clerks and sit at the check-in table.
“They are keeping an eye on each other and watching what is going on at the same time,” he said.
Any voter present can challenge the qualification of any other voter with cause, he noted, but legislation has tightened the definition on cause.
“Anybody can observe the process outside the rail,” he said, but only voters can be inside that area, yet the election process must be observable” other than in the actual voting booth.
Once the polls close, the election process is still continuous, he said and the information must match up.
Police take ballots to a drop off and work with state police to collect the ballots and in the early hours of the morning after the election they are delivered to the Secretary of State’s office where staff organize them by county, separate them by party and proceed to add them up to certify a winner.
He stressed this is a public process and the public can see the data being entered in the spreadsheets to be sure it matches what is posted at the town.
Errors can occur.
“If we encounter something that is blatantly wrong we will make changes but only when town officials explain what happened,” Scanlan said. “It is meant to be open and transparent and can be followed.”
New Hampshire, he said, holds more recounts than any other in the country, due to the fact we have so many elected officials.
“We have very high confidence,” in the process, Scanlan said. “It’s not perfect…but the important thing is when you report the outcome, there is confidence.”