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Capital Beat: Early voting? No-excuse absentee ballots? Gardner’s not a fan, but N.H. to study options

Last modified: 7/15/2013 12:19:55 AM
In a few years, New Hampshire could join the 35 states that offer some form of early voting or no-excuse absentee voting.

But not if Secretary of State Bill Gardner, the state’s top election official, has anything to say about it.

“As I’ve looked at the numbers historically for us and compared our numbers to other states, what I see is that these states that have gone to early voting, no-fault absentee, their turnouts have not increased – just the opposite,” Gardner said last week. “But you make that argument, and they think there’s something wrong with you. It takes a while to think about how this can possibly be, how can you make it easier and by making it easier you get fewer people voting . . . but that’s what the numbers show.”

In any case, don’t expect the debate to really get going until 2015.

Gov. Maggie Hassan on Friday signed a bill creating a legislative committee to study New Hampshire’s election laws and procedures.

The study committee has a broad charge: “review all options to increase participation including but not limited to solutions to limit lines and wait times in casting ballots and voter registration, public education related to election law, election procedures, early voting and absentee voting.”

It will issue a final report in late 2014, in time for any recommended legislation to be filed for the next year’s session of the Legislature.

Thirty-two states plus the District of Columbia offer some form of early voting, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Two states vote entirely by mail. And while New Hampshire offers absentee balloting, it requires voters to swear they won’t be able to make it to the polls on Election Day, while 27 states plus D.C. allow voters to obtain an absentee ballot without any need to explain themselves.

Rep. Kathy Hoelzel, a Raymond Republican and the bill’s prime sponsor, said the purpose of her study committee isn’t necessarily to make radical changes to New Hampshire’s voting process.

Instead, she said, the point is to gather input from local election officials on ways to streamline and improve the voting process, and find ways to increase participation in low-turnout local elections.

She should know – she’s a voting moderator in Raymond.

“My real goal is to get the input from election officials and then speak also with the secretary of state, the attorney general, those people, and see what we can do to make sure we’re consistent (on) everything, and get rid of something that doesn’t work if it’s just a nuisance law,” Hoelzel said.

Advocates say early voting and no-excuse absentee voting generally make it easier for voters to cast a ballot, and can reduce long lines at polling places on Election Day itself.

Of course, New Hampshire doesn’t exactly have a turnout problem now. Last November, 67.8 percent of the state’s voting-age population turned out to vote, the third-highest rate in the country and well above the national average of 53.6 percent, according to

the United States Elections Project at George Mason University.

And Gardner, the country’s longest-serving secretary of state and the venerable guardian of New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary, isn’t a fan of early voting and no-excuse absentee balloting.

“It diminishes the value of Election Day itself, because when you write stories about people voting and going to places to cast early ballots, when people read two or three more stories about voting, the significance of the one day itself is diminished in a lot of people’s minds,” he said.

That said, Gardner said he looks forward to seeing what the study committee recommends.

“I’m always willing to listen to new ideas. But I’m not a risk taker,” Gardner said with a chuckle.

Running the numbers

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen is off to a strong start in the 2014 money race, with $2.15 million in her bank account as of June 30, according to her campaign.

The deadline for U.S. House and Senate candidates to reporting fundraising totals for the second quarter is tomorrow, though some released their numbers last week.

Shaheen’s campaign said the Democrat raised $1.2 million in the second quarter, about the same as her fundraising take in the first quarter.

So far, no major Republicans have announced they’ll run against Shaheen, though former state senator Jim Rubens is exploring a run and state Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley is frequently mentioned as a potential candidate.

In the 2nd District, first-term Democratic Rep. Annie Kuster raised nearly $350,000 in the second quarter and had cash on hand of nearly $557,000, according to her campaign. No word yet from Republican state Rep. Bill O’Brien, the former speaker from Mont Vernon who filed paperwork in April for a congressional campaign.

No word, either, from 1st District Rep. Carol Shea-Porter. No Republicans have yet announced they’ll run against the Democrat, who last year won back the seat she had held for two terms before the losing to Republican Frank Guinta in 2010.

Sanborn’s sorry, again

For the second time in six weeks, state Sen. Andy Sanborn is taking flak for an unfortunate comment.

At the end of May it was on Twitter, where Sanborn referred to the governor as “Haggie.” He quickly deleted the tweet, called it a typo and apologized to the governor.

Last week it was on the radio, where Sanborn said Obamacare “is barreling down on us like a jet landing into San Francisco,” a joking comparison to the crash of a Boeing 777 the previous weekend that left two dead.

“If I offended anyone I am sorry,” Sanborn told WMUR, which first reported the remark.

The Bedford Republican is a potential candidate for governor next year, and the state Democratic Party spent days hammering him for the comment.

“In his radical right-wing crusade against the Affordable Care Act, there is no rhetoric too shameful or appalling for Sen. Sanborn,” said party spokesman Harrell Kirstein in the first of seven (!) news releases he would issue over four days about Sanborn’s remark.

Romeny’s return

Mitt Romney will re-emerge next month on the New Hampshire political scene.

The 2012 GOP presidential nominee will host a fundraiser Aug. 6 for the state Republican Party. Tickets are $100 for the event, which will be held at the Wolfeboro home of Mike and Irene Appe – the same lake house where then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy spent his summer vacation in 2007.

Romney, who has a summer home in Wolfeboro, won the New Hampshire primary in January 2012, but lost the state – and the election — in November.

The state party said reporters aren’t invited to the fundraiser. But if you happen to come across a digital audio recording of what Romney says, my email address is below.

Specials all around

There are three vacant seats in the House, and at least two of them will be filled this fall.

Special elections have been scheduled for vacant seats in Nashua’s Ward 8 (Democrat Roland LaPlante resigned in February) and Manchester’s Ward 7 (Democrat Patrick Garrity resigned in March). Candidates can file July 29 through Aug. 5, the primary will be held Sept. 17 and the general will be held Nov. 5.

If only one candidate from each party files to run, the special election will be held Sept. 17.

No word yet on a special election for the seat vacated by Stella Tremblay, the Auburn Republican who claimed the U.S. government may have been behind the Boston Marathon bombings.

Quote of the Week

“This calls for a reminder of great things about New Hampshire. It’s got the best motto, ‘Live Free or Die.’ And it is the home of the first-in-the-nation primary. Its entire elected delegation is women – governor, two U.S. senators and members of Congress. And while they are all serious people, New Hampshire has also given us Seth Meyers and Sarah Silverman. And the inventor of Tupperware is from there, and paper towels were invented in New Hampshire. So, to the great people of the great state of New Hampshire, from the peaks of the White Mountains to the shores of Winnipesaukee, please, accept our apology.”

That was NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams, issuing an on-air apology Tuesday for deleting New Hampshire from a map shown during the previous night’s broadcast.

Quick takes

∎ Happy Birthday to Senate Minority Leader Sylvia Larsen (today) and Sen. Sam Cataldo (Tuesday.)

∎ Mazel tov to Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern and wife Kristyn Van Ostern on the birth last Wednesday of Patrick McLeod Van Ostern.

∎ Senate President Peter Bragdon will wrap up a three-day visit to Seattle today for the Senate Presidents’ Forum.

∎ Americans for Prosperity will hold a “Legacy of Freedom” breakfast July 31 at Murphy’s Diner in Manchester, to honor the late economist Milton Friedman on his birthday.

∎ Rep. Mel Myler, a Hopkinton Democrat, has been appointed to the Education Committee for the Eastern Regional Conference of the Council of State Governments.

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)


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