Scanlan and Levesque face off for secretary of state’s office 

  • Melanie Levesque, the N.H. State House, David Scanlan —Composite photo

  • FILE - New Hampshire Secretary of State David Scanlan attends a news conference, Tuesday, April 26, 2022, at the Statehouse, in Concord, N.H. Scanlan will face his first election next month, and his first challenger. Democrat Melanie Levesque, a former state senator from Nashua, said Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022, she is running for the position Scanlan took over in January when longtime Secretary of State Bill Gardner retired. The Legislature will choose the winner Dec. 7. (AP... Kathy McCormack

  • Melanie Levesque Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • State Sen. Melanie Levesque, D-Hillsborough, addresses the chamber during debate prior to a vote on the death penalty at the State House in Concord, N.H., Thursday, May 30, 2019. New Hampshire, which hasn't executed anyone in 80 years and has only one inmate on death row, on Thursday became the latest state to abolish the death penalty when the state Senate voted to override the governor's veto. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) Charles Krupa

Monitor staff
Published: 12/6/2022 6:44:29 PM
Modified: 12/6/2022 6:44:08 PM

At the center of President Joe Biden’s pitch to Democrats to revoke New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary status was a call for greater diversity among early-voting states.

South Carolina, the president argued to party leaders, would give voters of color an appropriate national voice if the state held the first primary slot – despite New Hampshire’s century-old tradition of voting first.

Melanie Levesque disagrees.

In the midst of a national conversation about Democrats’ attempts at primary calendar reshuffling, Levesque argues that New Hampshire has plenty of diversity. It just might not be as obvious in a small state where almost 93 percent of the population is white, she said.

“There are so many different communities and different languages that are spoken in New Hampshire,” she said. “I’ve worked with a lot of different groups that are diverse groups within New Hampshire. We are diverse, we are small. And I think that our diversity needs to be highlighted.”

Levesque is challenging current Secretary of State David Scanlan for his seat on Wednesday. State legislators will elect the position during organization day.

If elected, Levesque would be the first Black secretary of state and the first woman to hold the position. She knows her appointment would highlight diversity within the state, but she has not made that the focus of her campaign for the seat.

“I’ve lived here almost all my life. I moved here when I was three years old. I have always felt that I am just one of the New Hampshire citizens, one of the neighbors,” she said. “I don’t like to set myself as different from others.”

Instead, she points to her work on the Election Law and Municipal Affairs Committee, which she chaired while serving as a state senator for District 12, in 2019-2020. As a member of the House of Representatives, she also served on the Election Law Committee during her two terms.

This experience with election law is also what prompted her to run for the state department’s lead role, after losing her bid for state senator this year.

“What motivated me was working on election law as a representative and a senator, and just interacting with the departments knowing the potential that we could make, as far as some of the great bills that we were trying to work on,” she said. “Also seeing that they weren’t really accepted, like modernizing methods like using generic or automated voter registration, online voter registration, was concerning to me.”

But experience in office is also what Scanlan touts in his bid for reelection. He has served as the acting secretary of state since Bill Gardner retired in January of 2022, and worked under Gardner for two decades.

In his 10 months in office, Scanlan has led the department through a successful midterm election with audits, recounts and record voter turnout. He has also made information more clear and accessible for businesses, voters and other citizens in his short tenure.

He outlined these accomplishments in a letter to members of the legislature ahead of Wendesday’s vote.

“Over the last 10 months, I have really elevated the operating systems within the Department of State to the point that we’ve got a solid foundation and we’re ready to really move on building better systems that will help out our population,” he said in an interview Tuesday. “We’re trying to modernize and have systems that are responsive to the needs of our population.”

He did this all alongside a bipartisan team, he said, which is integral to the neutral nature of the position.

“We were able to aggressively achieve the goals that I had set when I became Secretary of State 10 months ago,” he said. “This should be a nonpartisan office. And so it’s really important that we have a bipartisan team with the political parties represented.”

New Hampshire has same-day voter registration, but to cast a mail-in ballot, voters must meet certain criteria like living overseas, having a disability, illness, work restriction or religious observance.

Despite high voter turnout in past elections with 72 percent in 2020 and record 2022 midterm participation, Levesque criticized election accessibility in the state. As secretary of state, she would support introducing online or automatic voter registration and decrease barriers to mail-in ballots.

“If we’re at 72 percent [turnout], there’s still 28 percent of the voters who are not included. How do we get to 100 percent? How do we make it more accessible for our voters to participate in elections?” she said. “So these are some of the things that we could do to increase participation, allow people to use their voices, and something that I would very much support.”

With the news of a new primary schedule breaking ahead of the secretary of state selection, both candidates can agree on the importance of following New Hampshire state law that cements its first-in-the-nation primary status.

Scanlan agreed with Levesque that New Hampshire has its own picture of diversity and remains the best state to lead the primary calendar.

“Every state has its own unique set of demographics, and no state should be penalized for the ethnic makeup of its population. What makes New Hampshire special is that we are a very accessible state, small and geography reasonably sized in population,” he said. “It’s easy to campaign here. We have an electorate that has elections as part of its ingrained culture. It’s a place where anybody who has that childhood dream of growing up to be president can try and make it happen.”


MICHAELA TOWFIGHI

Michaela Towfighi is a Report for America corps member covering the Two New Hampshires for the Monitor. She graduated from Duke University with a degree in public policy and journalism and media studies in 2022. At Duke she covered education, COVID-19, the 2020 election and helped edit stories about the Durham County Courthouse for The 9th Street Journal and the triangle area's alt-weekly Indy Week. Her story about a family grappling with a delayed trial for a fatal car accident in Concord won first place in Duke’s Melcher Family Award for Excellence in Journalism. Towfighi is an American expat who calls London, England, home despite being born in Boston.



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