Opinion: Thank you, New Hampshire election officials

By COLIN VAN OSTERN and ANGELA BRENNAN

Published: 02-08-2024 6:00 AM

Colin Van Ostern of Concord served on the Executive Council from 2012-2016, and Rep. Angela Brennan of Bow currently serves on the NH House Election Law committee. Both were volunteer leaders in the ‘Write In Biden’ effort.

January’s First In the Nation primary was one for the record books, and New Hampshire’s election officials proved that our state does democracy like no other.

While so much has been written about the successes of the primary on the political front, there’s one aspect that must not be overlooked: our state and local election officials once again served New Hampshire well.

The challenge in the 2024 primary was significant. Republicans narrowly set the state record turnout for a big, open-seat race. Democrats ran an extraordinary, historic write-in, also setting records. The eyes of the nation were on us.

In the face of all that, New Hampshire delivered.

Credit goes to our moderators, our town and city clerks, our nonpartisan poll workers who volunteer to support their community, our secretary of state’s office, and our tradition of de-centralized, town-run, paper-ballot-based, good old-fashioned elections.

There were plenty of pitfalls that could have ensnared this process. A deeply misguided DNC tried and failed to move other states ahead of New Hampshire, and then left the Biden campaign off the New Hampshire ballot as a result. The NH Secretary of State calmly followed our law and scheduled our First In The Nation primary before other states. Instead of hanging our heads or staying home in anger and frustration, New Hampshire citizens responded by organizing a write-in campaign unprecedented in modern state history.

Would it matter if a voter wrote “Joe” or “Joseph” Biden? What if they forgot to fill out the bubble? Would we even see results that night?

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As the write-in effort gathered momentum, our secretary of state was confident: while it would mean some additional work for our poll workers, a write-in was just one vote, on one ballot, and our towns and cities were up to the task. Training by the elections division in every corner of the state correctly laid out New Hampshire law: voter intent always supersedes technicalities. Forgetting to fill in a bubble but still writing one candidate’s name is a clear sign of voter intent and shall be counted.

True to their nonpartisan mandate, and love of history, the secretary of state’s office opted to explain misspellings and abbreviations using examples like “George Washington,” “G. Washington,” “President Washington,” “Geo. Washington,” and “George Washintin.” (Yes, in the absence of anyone with a similar name running, they all count for the same person).

There are times that our secretary of state’s office has advocated for policies that we have strongly disagreed with or taken an approach to executing our elections that could be improved. But we should also give credit where credit is due. Their office could have derailed the write-in effort, but they put democracy first and delivered a smooth election in a tough environment. It’s a far cry from what we’ve seen in other states.

Meanwhile, our clerks and moderators found new volunteers, worked creatively to offer “evening-only” shifts to poll workers in many communities, and delivered on democracy at its finest. Outside groups, like the Campaign for Voting Rights, Open Democracy, the grassroots Write In Biden effort, and elected leaders in New Hampshire all worked to recruit volunteers to help.

On the write-in effort, voter protection volunteers met with current and former town moderators and clerks, as well as the secretary of state’s office; they raised grassroots donations to print up more sample ballots than voters have ever seen in state history; recruited volunteers to stand outside more than 200 polling locations on election day with signs, sample ballots, and QR codes; and ran a (very quiet) election day hotline.

It all worked. Joe Biden received more votes than any sitting Democrat in state history. By write-in! We knew his big win early that night, and the final vote totals the next day.

On the Republican side, a massive surge of undeclared voters voting in the Republican primary narrowly set state records for a party primary. Both Democrats and Republicans exceeded the official turnout projections.

There are New Hampshire primaries that become part of our state lore. The McCain upset in 2000. The Comeback Kid in 1992. Ed Muskie crying on the steps of the Union Leader in ‘72, or President Johnson failing to crack 50% as the Vietnam war raged in ‘68.

Thanks to the hard work of all our election officials, and the dedication of our citizens who show up, the 2024 New Hampshire Primary deserves a banner up in those rafters.