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Tuesday's primary: Candidates making final push for crucial votes

New Hampshire Union Leader

September 11. 2018 9:16AM
Democratic candidate for governor Steve Marchand makes a last-minute appeal for votes at the Red Arrow diner in Manchester. (Courtesy)

An estimated 180,000 New Hampshire voters will head to the polls Tuesday in primary elections to choose Democratic, Republican and Libertarian candidates for governor, Congress and state legislature. The winners will be on the ballot for the general election on Nov. 6.

Candidates fanned out across the state Monday in a final day of frenzied campaigning.

“There are really three separate elections taking place,” says Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan, “the Democratic primary, Republican primary and Libertarian primary. Undeclared voters have the option of choosing which party’s primary they would like to participate in.”

Independent voters who decide to vote in a party primary must remember to re-register as independents on their way out of the polls, or they will remain on record as a member of the party in whose primary they voted.

In an ordinary cycle, the primary election in a non-presidential year would elicit yawns from voters and a narrow turnout consisting mostly of party stalwarts. But this off-year election is anything but ordinary with high voter interest and a pervasive sense that a lot is at stake, even though incumbent Republican Gov. Chris Sununu and incumbent Democratic 2nd District Congresswoman Ann McLane Kuster have no primary opposition.

The major races are in the Democratic primary for governor, the Republican primary to decide who will run against Kuster in the fall and a wide open congressional seat in the 1st District with multiple candidates from both parties.

Secretary of State Bill Gardner is predicting that each of the two major parties will attract about 90,000 voters to the polls. That’s high for Democrats, who turned out 72,431 voters in the September primary of 2016; but low for Republicans, with 111,271 votes cast two years ago.

“When Bill makes his predictions, he looks at history and tries to find elections in the past that have been similar to the upcoming election,” said Scanlan. “Then he also takes a look at the nature of the races involved and voter enthusiasm. It’s a combination of art and science.”

New election laws

The election takes place against the backdrop of new election rules signed into law over the past two years by Sununu, and an ongoing debate about whether out-of-state college students should be allowed to declare New Hampshire their home state for purposes of voting.

The state Supreme Court in July issued an advisory opinion that House Bill 1264, defining residency and domicile for purposes of voting, is constitutional. That set the stage for Sununu to sign the bill into law despite his previously stated concern that it would constrain voting among college students, but the law doesn’t take effect until July of next year.

Former Democratic candidate for governor Colin Van Ostern, now running for Secretary of State, accused Gardner’s office of removing information from the Secretary of State website designed to inform college students on their voting rights.

“With one day to go until the state primary election, New Hampshire’s Secretary of State has removed the web links to its own “Voting As A College Student” page from the official state voter information website,” according to a statement issued by Van Ostern’s campaign on Monday.

“That is just patently untrue,” says Scanlan.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Molly Kelly campaigns with retired SNHU basketball coach Stan Spirou at the Bridge Cafe in Manchester. (Staff)

He acknowledged that changes were made to the website, but they were made last summer after the passage of Senate Bill 3, which changed the procedures for same-day voter registration. That law is now being challenged in the courts and the penalties associated with non-compliance put on hold until the case is resolved.

“After SB 3 passed in 2017, the changes that were called for in that legislation conflicted with some of the information that was in a web page that we had up specific to college students, and so around the time of the 2017 Manchester city primary election we decided it was better to take the page down than to have incorrect information up in its place, and so we pulled the page,” he said.

“Subsequent to that, we put up a generic page relative to registering to vote, which includes at least one paragraph that addresses college students. That page is currently up on the website and has been there for a good solid year and there has been no change.”

Election hotline

The Attorney General has set up a State Primary Election Hotline, at 866-868-3703, which will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Election Day.

Voters or election officials are encouraged to call the hotline with any concerns or questions that surface at the polls, with a promise that each inquiry will be answered. The office will also be deploying a team of attorneys and investigators to assist local election officials.

Given the changes in election law and a recent court ruling on signature verification for absentee ballots, the Secretary of State held 17 training sessions between Aug. 1 and last Thursday for local election officials. According to Scanlan, the state has about 2,400 locally elected town or city election officials, and more than 1,500 took part in the training.

“Overall, I have the strong sense that the local election officials are well-prepared for this election,” said Scanlan. “Voters are not going to notice any significant changes at the polling places this election, and we expect things to go very smoothly, thanks to the 2,400 or so local election officials who repeatedly do an outstanding job.”


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