Manchester absentee ballot counting

Ballot inspectors Cal Bowie, left, and Megan Diaz work as a team to process absentee ballots at Ward 1 in Manchester’s Webster School on Tuesday.

CONCORD — The final, official turnout is likely a day away, but Secretary of State Bill Gardner said New Hampshire voters clearly shattered the all-time record for any state primary in history.

“There isn’t any doubt this goes way beyond numbers we have ever seen and maybe in multiple ways,” Gardner said during a telephone interview Thursday.

“I think the absentee vote count is what will make this one so historic. So many local officials told me Tuesday the turnout was good but not out of this world. Yet if you add 80,000 or more absentees, you could end up with this unprecedented turnout,” Gardner said.

The previous record was the 228,212 that cast ballots in the September 2018 and the 126,474 casting Democratic ballots was also an all-time high.

Democratic Party leaders maintained this set the stage for their party in the mid-term election in November to sweep all the major offices but for Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, who won a second term.

According to unofficial results late Wednesday, with 99% of the vote counted, at least 150,202 voted in the U.S. Senate primary that two-term Sen. Jeanne Shaheen easily won over two, unknown opponents.

With 100% of the vote in the Republican race for governor, 144,127 had cast ballots for either Gov. Sununu (nearly 90%) and his two, little-known and under-funded foes.

“We’ll know more in a day or so, but if those numbers hold up it’s conceivable we could go over 300,000 if you count write-ins,” Gardner said.

Gardner said his staff was focused Wednesday not on ballots cast but on getting final and official numbers for the individual races and especially those that appeared to be close, such as the Executive Council Dist. 2 Democratic primary to replace as the nominee Andru Volinsky, who ran for governor, as well as several tight primaries for seats in the New Hampshire House of Representatives.

State election officials do this so as to give candidates a clear, early picture on whether they should seek a recount, Gardner said.

Concord lawyer Cinde Warmington won that six-person council race, followed by former law school professor Leah Plunkett, who was more than 2% behind.

Gardner said he visited more than a half-dozen polling places Tuesday, and in the face of COVID-19, he was struck by the relative calm.

“Everything was smooth, clean, well-run. Voters genuinely seemed to be enjoying the experience despite the steps we had all taken to keep people safe,” Gardner said.

“I came back to the office pretty content that again New Hampshire voters had done their part and exceeded expectations.”