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Van Ostern to challenge Gardner for Secretary of State position

New Hampshire Union Leader

March 13. 2018 11:24PM
Bill Gardner, left, and Colin Van Ostern 

CONCORD — Former executive councilor and 2016 Democratic nominee for governor Colin Van Ostern of Concord will challenge Secretary of State Bill Gardner to become the state's top election official after the 2018 elections.

Van Ostern, 42, will make official his campaign with a news conference on Wednesday afternoon.

Senate Democratic Leader Jeff Woodburn of Whitefield and House Democratic Leader Steve Shurtleff of Concord are supporting Van Ostern in his attempt to unseat Gardner, who at 42 years is the longest-serving secretary of state in the country.

“We need to protect and strengthen New Hampshire's free and fair elections so that our government always reflects the will of the people — not those trying to rig the system for their own interests,” Van Ostern said in his draft announcement.

“To modernize state government, to promote fair, secure elections in cooperation with local city and town officials, to stand up for the voting rights of all eligible voters, and to protect New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation presidential primary. I plan to ask incoming lawmakers to consider me as a candidate for secretary of state of New Hampshire next fall.”

Gardner, a Manchester Democrat, made official Tuesday night what had been known for months — that he would seek a 22nd term for the elections post.

The membership of the New Hampshire Legislature elects the secretary of state for a two-year term.

Any New Hampshire voter can run for the post.

Van Ostern has praised Gardner for his dogged persistence in defending New Hampshire's status as the first-in-the-nation primary state.

But Van Ostern has sharply criticized Gardner for having supported in 2017 changes to the state's domicile law that he maintains could discourage many from going to the polls on Election Day — including low-income citizens and college students who reside elsewhere.

And Van Ostern was critical of Gardner for having agreed to take a seat on President Trump's election integrity commission and then preparing to send down to federal authorities requested information about New Hampshire voters. Trump ultimately disbanded the commission, which rendered the data requests a moot issue.

Van Ostern is expected to propose a nonpartisan platform that includes modernizing support for local election officials, electronic voter checklists, random audits to confirm machine vote counts and more proactive cooperation with cities and towns.

He also vowed to rebut false “voter fraud” political attacks and inaccurate statements from elected leaders, no matter the source, and endorsed creating an independent commission to make legislative and congressional redistricting changes that do not favor a political party.

Van Ostern has formed a political action committee, Free and Fair N.H. that he will use to raise money in support of candidates for the Legislature that endorse his reform agenda.

Van Ostern said his PAC won't accept corporate or business donations and he will campaign for a state law that outlaws those donations.

The last serious challenge to Gardner came from Salem Republican state Rep. Donna Sytek in 1984. Sytek went on to become the first woman speaker of the N.H. House.

For the past 20 years, state Democratic leaders at times have bitterly fought with Gardner, maintaining that he's too often sided with the wishes of Republican legislative leaders.

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