Early voting begins in neighboring states, but New Hampshire has higher turnout, Secretary of State says

  • Bill Gardner AP

For the Monitor
Published: 9/21/2018 5:02:13 PM

The first ballots in the 2018 midterm elections were cast on Friday, as four states kicked off early voting, including Vermont.

New Hampshire’s two other neighbors, Massachusetts and Maine, are among the 37 states across the country that this year offer “no-excuse” absentee ballots or other kinds of early voting. The early voting trend in recent cycles led to some 40 percent of ballots nationwide not being cast in a polling place on Election Day in 2014 and 2016.

The Granite State isn’t among those states and that’s just fine with Bill Gardner, the longest-serving secretary of state in the country.

“There’s an actual decrease in turnout,” Gardner said as he pointed to the states that have adopted early voting, as he highlighted an extensive study by the American Journal of Political Science

Gardner argued that early voting does more harm than good.

“Election Day becomes an afterthought because you’ve had ten of them or 15 of them already,” he said.

It might not seem to make sense at first, but a closer look tells the true story, he said.

“It’s counterintuitive,” he said. “How can you make something easier for people and end up in a situation where you actually have fewer people doing it? But look at these statistics.”

Gardner said New Hampshire is doing better when it comes to the percentage of eligible voters who actually cast a ballot than two if its neighbors that have early voting.

“We’ve been higher than Vermont for many cycles,” Gardner said. “Maine had always been at the top of the country (in voter turnout), until 2012 and they went below us” after implementing early voting.

Gardner also pointed to Oregon, which thanks to two-decades of vote-by-mail, is considered the easiest state in the nation to cast a ballot.

“Where is Oregon compared to us? Way below us,” he said.

New Hampshire’s consistently been in the top 10 in voter turnout for a quarter century. In the 2016 election, “in-voting eligible population, we were second-highest in the country,” Gardner said.

While there have been some legislative pushes to allow early voting in New Hampshire, none have gained much traction.

For the first time in several decades, Gardner’s facing a serious challenge as he bids for a 22nd two-year term as New Hampshire’s top election official. That challenge is coming from fellow Democrat Colin Van Ostern of Concord, a former two-term executive councilor who was the 2016 Democratic nominee for governor.

While Van Ostern disagrees with Gardner on many election and voter eligibility issues, early voting isn’t one of them.

“I think our general elections work pretty well right now,” Van Ostern told the Monitor.

The New Hampshire state director for America Votes, a national progressive group that fights to protect “every American’s right to vote,” said that the Granite State “lags behind in early voting.”

And Liz Wester said that her group “would be interested in including early voting” in any voting reform package that could be passed by the state Legislature.

Ian Ceraolo, the state director of Let America Vote, another progressive voting rights group, said his organization is supporting candidates who champion voting rights in the midterm elections with the hopes that “commonsense reforms like early voting will follow soon.”

Gardner has been blasted by fellow Democrats and progressive groups the past year and a half for his support of two controversial Republican voter eligibility bills that were signed into law by GOP Gov. Chris Sununu.

“I want more people to vote,” he said. “I want us to be at the top of the list in the country and that’s where we are and that’s where we’ve been.”

He said New Hampshire’s laws work.

“We’re the easiest state in the country to vote in, because we’re the only state in the country that has Election Day registration, we do not have provision ballots like 46 states that have ballots, and we have zero durational residency day requirements. Zero. There’s no other state in the country that has that.”

While New Hampshire doesn’t allow “no-excuse” early voting, it does provide absentee ballots for those out-of-state on Election Day, unable to vote because of religious reasons, physically disabled and thus unable to visit the polls, on active duty military service, because of employment obligations, and as of 2016 for caretakers of the infirm.

Gardner spotlighted that absentee ballots for people in isolated areas – like serving aboard a U.S. Navy submarine – have already been sent out. And he added that as of Saturday, Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act ballots would be on their way to those who’ve requested them.

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