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Midterms draw big crowds in NH

Voting for the first time in America on Tuesday were Manchester brothers, from left, Chuda, Hari and Tilak Niroula. The former refugees from Bhutan, a Buddhist kingdom that borders Tibet, voted in Ward 9 at Bishop Leo O’Neil Youth Center in Manchester.

The driving rain failed to dampen determined Granite State voters who, experts said, would likely set a record for midterm turnout in Tuesday’s election when tallies are completed.

Secretary of State Bill Gardner visited polls across the state, confident of his forecast that this would be the first midterm where more than 500,000 voters cast ballots.

Before the election, Gardner settled on a forecast of 540,000.

“It’s been raining voters all day,” Gardner said. “Despite the weather the turnout has been terrific all over the state.”

Gov. Chris Sununu, who faced a stiff reelection bid from Democrat Molly Kelly, said he wasn’t surprised to see lines at the polls early on Tuesday.

That’s an uncommon sight except every four years when there’s a presidential contest.

New Hampshire is one of only two states in the country along with Vermont that elect a governor every two years.

“This is New Hampshire. People come out rain or shine. They understand the importance of that vote,” Sununu said. “There is great accountability in the system.”

NextGen America, founded by liberal billionaire Thomas Steyer, pumped $750,000 into the state to boost turnout among voters under 30. The group hired 37 full-time “fellows” working on college campuses throughout the state.

The effort paid some dividends as the turnout in three of the four most important student precincts in New Hampshire had exceeded the vote for all of the last midterm in 2014 by 4 p.m., according to Kristen Morris, media manager for NextGen NH.

Keene, Hanover and Durham turnouts were above four years ago for the entire day; only Plymouth was slightly below as of 4 p.m.

New Hampshire allows voters to register and vote on Election Day.

State leaders in both political parties were reporting similar record numbers.

Democratic leaders reported that by 5 p.m., the 2014 turnout had been exceeded in Plymouth, Lebanon (Ward 1), Portsmouth (Ward 2), Exeter, Durham, Dover (Ward 1), and Conway.

Former Republican State Vice Chairman Matt Mayberry was seeing the same thing.

“The vote is huge. The numbers in Rye, North Hampton, Barrington and Dover are matching if not surpassing — even rivaling — 2016 turnout, which is crazy,” said Mayberry, a GOP candidate for Strafford County commissioner.

Manchester City Clerk Matt Normand said the 63 percent turnout was the highest of any midterm in history.

Michael Biundo, lead consultant for 1st Congressional District Republican candidate Eddie Edwards, said large turnouts don’t always lead to across-the-board victories for one party over another.

“It really depends on many factors like where did the other side target, did the weather of the day play into the turnout up to this point, did we do a good job turning out our voters,” Biundo said.

In New Hampton, former GOP State Rep. Fran Wendelboe admitted the Democrats looked energized in this GOP stronghold town.

“They had a lot of folks at their table, a lot of enthusiasm, while ours were all business,” Wendleboe said.

Manchester Ward 2 Moderator Nicholl Marshall called the turnout “heavier than usual for a midterm election.”

“From about 6 a.m. to 12 noon it was consistently hectic,” he said, noting it picked back up at 4 p.m.

Ward 2 voter Paul Nelson braved the rain and lines Tuesday night because he considers voting his right and duty.

“I usually lean toward Republican, but this year I was straight ticket the other way,” he said.

Republican Maureen Reardon, of Ward 2, said she doesn’t agree with everything Trump does but sees a lot of problems with “Obamacare.”

The insurance broker said, “there are a lot of people who fall through the cracks.”

Registered Republican Bob Brezino voted straight Republican.

“I can’t stand the liberals,” he said outside the polling place at Henry J. McLaughlin Middle School. “They’re just nuts.”

He was upset with the way the Democrats treated Brett Kavanaugh during his recent Supreme Court confirmation hearing.

Registered Democrat Chris Miller voted straight Democratic in Ward 6.

She said President Donald Trump was the reason “100 percent to come out here and vote.”

“We’ve got to do something about the state of the government and the person who is supposed to be running it,” she said.

Regarding voter irregularities, there were no major issues to report, poll officials said.

At the Ward 7 polling location at Manchester’s St. Anthony Community Center, for example, two volunteers made do with a cardboard box to substitute for a broken ballot feeding machine. They asked voters to insert completed ballots between the box flaps to be counted later by a working machine.

The Attorney General’s election day hotline had received 165 calls by 5 p.m., said Kate Spiner, a spokesman for the office.

“The issues reported have been routine and we are responding to them as they come in,” she wrote in an email. “There have been reports of high volumes of vehicular traffic at some of the polling locations. Local law enforcement and election officials have been managing those issues.”

It usually takes about 20 seconds to drive from the traffic circle in Derry to the polling station at West Running Brook Middle School, police Capt. Vern Thomas said. But for much of Tuesday morning, it took commuters up to 15 minutes.

“The volume of traffic, the number of voters that are trying to get in there to vote, is pretty significant and it’s causing a backup of cars onto south main street,” Thomas said, adding that officers were on hand directing traffic.

Union Leader columnist Katie McQuaid and reporters Todd Feathers and Mike Cousineau contributed to this report.