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Presidential Hopefuls Connect With Primary's Founder As They File For The Ballot

Casey McDermott, NHPR
The desk of Stephen Bullock, the state representative who founded the New Hampshire presidential primary, is on display in Secretary of State Bill Gardner's office during the primary filing period.

Dozens of presidential hopefuls – household names and obscure names alike – have been visiting to the New Hampshire statehouse to file for the state’s first in the nation primary.

Candidates have made these trips for decades, but this year, Secretary of State Bill Gardner has added something new to the tradition – or. perhaps we should say, something old.

“You’re signing on the desk of the person who wrote the legislation in 1913 that created the New Hampshire primary," Gardner told John Kasich, as the Ohio Governor signed his paperwork to add his name to the 2016 ballot. "This is his desk.”

His name was Stephen Bullock, who represented the town of Richmond, New Hampshire.

According to the Secretary of State’s office, Bullock’s law allowed for “the election of delegates to national convention by direct vote of the people.”

This was a time when the Progressive movement was urging for citizens to have a more direct role in politics – it’s when voters began electing U.S. Senators instead of state legislatures selecting them.

And states like New Hampshire turned to voters to choose delegates to party political conventions through primaries, rather than have party leaders hand-pick delegates.

Bullock’s bill created the New Hampshire primary, though UNH political scientist Andy Smith told NHPR’s The Exchange it wasn’t originally intended to be the first in the nation primary. “The original law was to have the primary in May," Smith said, "but some local political leaders say that doesn’t make sense, we’d have to open the town hall twice. Why don’t we have it on town meeting day in March, since we’re open anyway, and the farmers can get there because the roads haven’t turned to mud yet.”

Even with the March primary date, New Hampshire voted a week after the Minnesota primary, and on the same day as Indiana. It wouldn’t be until 1920 that New Hampshire voters went first.

The desk of Stephen Bullock is on display in Secretary of State Bill Gardner’s office through the end of the presidential primary filing period on November 20. 

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