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In NH, people of all political stripes send a message: ‘Every vote matters’

A voter is given an “I voted” sticker after turning in their ballot at Milford High School on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2023, in Milford, N.H. (Raquel C. Zaldívar/New England News Collaborative)
Raquel Zaldivar
A voter is given an “I voted” sticker after turning in their ballot at Milford High School on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2023, in Milford, N.H. (Raquel C. Zaldívar/New England News Collaborative)

New Hampshire voters sent all manner of mixed messages at the polls Tuesday.

There were the Donald Trump loyalists eager to propel the former president to another primary win, and the reluctant Republican voters who turned out primarily to prevent that from happening. There were also Democrats hoping to boost President Joe Biden’s reelection bid — even as he snubbed the state — and other left-leaning voters who were less than eager to do the same. There were even some who refused to back down from their chosen candidate, even after he bowed out of the race.

But those who showed up at the polls on Tuesday were unified on at least one front: the importance of voting, period.

“In a town where you can vote for the people that affect your life, if you are not here to keep the integrity of the elections, or to vote on the process then you are not safeguarding your own future,” said Henry Giasson, who spent the morning volunteering at the polls in Goffstown.

In Plymouth, moderator Robert Clay said people seemed more focused on the act of voting itself than any one candidate.

“The mood is kind of people coming to do their democratic duty," he said. "Usually you see people excited about one way or another, and you’re not seeing that today.”

Gaby Lozada
Henry Giasson volunteered at the polls in Goffstown.

And in Bedford, 23-year-old Jada Cheney was steadfast in her desire to avoid sticking with any one party — saying she doesn’t want politicians to put her “in a box.” But she said her generation is paying close attention to this year’s primary, knowing their lives will be shaped by the outcome.

“I think they are watching,” she said. “I think they are listening.”

Heading into the primary, New Hampshire’s Secretary of State predicted a record Republican turnout — and as poll workers kept counting late into Tuesday night, the state was on pace to meet that expectation. As of 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, with about 92% of precincts reporting, more than 300,000 Republican votes had been tallied. In 2016, the last time there was a competitive primary, about 287,000 ballots were cast in total.

And while some election watchers cautioned that the Democratic results could be slowed by a write-in campaign for Biden, who declined to put his name on the ballot, the results on that side were also finalized without much delay.

Across the state, election officials reported a brisk but mostly quiet day at the polls.

"I voted" stickers line a ballot counting machine in Keene
Paul Cuno-Booth
"I voted" stickers line a ballot counting machine in Keene.

“This was a very, very smooth election, and we always like to see that,” New Hampshire Secretary of State David Scanlan told NHPR Tuesday night. “And that is just a tremendous tribute to the local election officials that volunteer their time to, you know, serve in these roles and make sure that everybody from New Hampshire can exercise that precious right to vote.”

As is typical on primary day, Scanlan said there were lots of questions from voters frustrated by their inability to change their party registration at the polls on Election Day. New Hampshire only allows voters to make those changes several months before any primary; this year’s cutoff was in October.

“That's a fairly common event in any primary,” Scanlan said, “whether it's a presidential primary or a state primary.”

Scanlan said the issue often happens when an undeclared voter casts a ballot in either the Democratic or Republican primary, then doesn’t switch their registration back to undeclared. But he said there are occasionally instances where a voter’s registration information is wrongly recorded — and his office encourages election workers to be on the lookout for errors.

The significance of the actual votes in this year’s New Hampshire primary remain an open question, particularly amid the ongoing feud between local and national Democrats over the state’s role in the presidential nominating contest.

The Democratic National Committee refuses to acknowledge the legitimacy of this year’s New Hampshire primary and has threatened to withhold delegates, because New Hampshire refused to comply with changes to the party’s nominating calendar. The first sanctioned votes of the Democratic contest this year will happen in South Carolina, a state party leaders chose in part because it’s more racially diverse than New Hampshire.

Looking ahead, the state’s top election official defended the value of the New Hampshire primary despite this year’s opposition. But he also said the state can’t get complacent.

Becc Kulengosky came to vote with his best friend, Arabella Apigo, who was also voting for the first time.
Mara Hoplamazian
Becc Kulengosky came to vote with his best friend, Arabella Apigo, who was also voting for the first time.

“The other part of this — the more significant part looking forward — is that we, New Hampshire has to do a better job of educating the country on why it is important that New Hampshire hold this early position,” Scanlan said. “And it has nothing to do with racial diversity, which is important, and I certainly don't deny that all ethnic groups should be able to participate early in this process.”

New Hampshire’s important, Scanlan argued, because of its low barrier to entry for candidates without the money or name recognition needed to make a mark in other states.

“Our election is designed for the little guy, the average voter on Main Street,” Scanlan said. “That is the person that should be voting to decide who the nominee for president is going to be from this state.”

In this year’s primary, of course, the winning candidates had plenty of money and plenty of name recognition. But that didn’t deter others from turning out for the more unlikely contenders — like Becc Kulengosky, a Plymouth State University student who, after extensive research, cast a ballot for longshot Democratic hopeful Dean Phillips.

“I’m like, every vote matters,” Kulengosky said. “Everything we do matters. Because we are the people who will eventually be taking over the country. If we’re going to do it we might as well get started now.”

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