NH Secretary of State Bill Gardner to leave office

  • On Nov. 8, 2019, then Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden hands the pen to Bill Gardner after filing to have his name listed on the New Hampshire primary ballot. AP file

  • New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner looks over polling data from the Primary in his office at the State House on Feb. 12, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor file

  • New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner says show the proof of busloads of people from Massachusetts. GEOFF FORESTER

  • Secretary of State Bill Gardner watches at left as Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump shows off his filling fee check after filing papers to be on the nation's earliest presidential primary ballot, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015, at The Secretary of State's office in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole) Jim Cole

  • Bill Gardner announces he will leave office  Teddy Rosenbluth—

Monitor staff
Published: 1/3/2022 3:47:15 PM

Bill Gardner, New Hampshire’s Secretary of State for nearly five decades, announced Monday he will retire without seeking another term in office. 

Gardner, 73, was first elected to the position in 1976 and has been reelected every two years since, making him the longest-serving secretary of state in the country. Historically, he faced little competition until 2018, when he defeated former gubernatorial candidate Colin Van Ostern by just four votes.

At a press conference Monday afternoon, Gardner said his reason for leaving came down to timing— he said this was the smoothest time in the election cycle to transition responsibilities. He said personal and political reasons were not a factor in his decision to leave office. 

“The two previous secretary of states have died in office and I’ve thought about that,” he said. “It wasn’t actually something I aspired to.” 

Gardner has staunchly guarded New Hampshire's first-in-the nation presidential primary. New Hampshire law requires the state’s presidential primary to be held at least seven days ahead of any similar contest, and gives the secretary of state exclusive authority to set the date.

“For decades, Bill Gardner has fiercely protected New Hampshire’s First in the Nation presidential primary and overseen our elections that are truly a point of pride for our state — always open, fair, accessible, and accurate,” Gov. Chris Sununu said in a statement. “We will miss Bill and his vast institutional knowledge of New Hampshire people, politics, and government.”

In 2020, New Hampshire's Feb. 11 presidential primary race was under extra scrutiny after the leadoff Iowa caucuses descended into chaos, with technical problems and results that remained muddied for days.

Then came the coronavirus pandemic, which created challenges for municipal elections and traditional Town Meetings in March, followed by the September state primary and November general election. The state temporarily expanded eligibility for absentee voting for those concerned about the pandemic, and extensive safety measures were in place at the polls. All of that influenced his decision to run again in 2020, Gardner said.

In recent years, Gardner came under fire from Democrats for his participation in former President Donald Trump’s commission on voter fraud and for backing GOP legislation to tighten voter registration rules.

That created an opening for Van Ostern, who campaigned for months on a platform of modernizing the office, holding it accountable, and resisting what he viewed as voter suppression measures.

Over nearly half a century, Gardner worked with 11 Governors, 17 Senate presidents, and thousands more elected officials. 

“Despite our occasional differences at times, each person with whom I have worked is a good person with good intent,” he said. 

Gardner said he will continue to write and speak about the state constitution and advocate for New Hampshire’s role in the primary after he leaves office. When asked to recall his proudest moment, he pointed to a small stroke of luck a couple of months into his first term, during which he stumbled upon New Hampshire’s copy of the Declaration of Independence in the State House.

Gardner, whose office walls are decorated with decades of election photos and who is quick to reference facts about New Hampshire’s role in the Revolutionary War, said remembering and protecting the state’s history has been the most important part of his job.

The Secretary of State’s office guards history quite literally by managing the state archives and records. Gardner said history is also what solidifies New Hampshire’s position as the first-in-nation primary. The precedent that protects the tradition grows every time New Hampshire holds a primary, he said.

“This office is the history... and the history is really embedded in me,” he said.

Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan will take the oath of office to replace Gardner in the near future.

(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.)

Teddy Rosenbluth bio photo

Teddy Rosenbluth is a Report for America corps member covering health care issues for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. She has covered science and health care for Los Angeles Magazine, the Santa Monica Daily Press and UCLA's Daily Bruin, where she was a health editor and later magazine director. Her investigative reporting has brought her everywhere from the streets of Los Angeles to the hospitals of New Delhi. Her work garnered first place for Best Enterprise News Story from the California Journalism Awards, and she was a national finalist for the Society of Professional Journalists Best Magazine Article. She graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in psychobiology.

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