Primary School: What Do You Have to Do to Actually Run for President in N.H.?

Nov 14, 2019

If you want to run for president, New Hampshire is an easy place to start.

The relatively low barrier to getting on New Hampshire's primary ballot is legendary, something Secretary of State Bill Gardner has promoted ever since he first became the state’s chief election officer in 1976. Still, people might have questions about the ins and outs of this political tradition.

(This is an installment in an ongoing series of explainers about the New Hampshire primary. Check back for others. Have a question you’d like answered? Let us know here.) 

How does a person qualify or get on the ballot?

A candidate must fill out the declaration of candidacy form, confirming they meet the constitutional requirements to be president: They’re at least 35 years of age, a natural born United States citizen and a resident for at least 14 years. On the declaration form, the candidate must also list their domicile — their primary home — and verify that they're a registered member of the party whose nomination they're seeking.

Bill Murphy, a social studies teacher at Hanover High School, is now a presidential candidate on the N.H. Primary ballot for 2020.
Credit Dan Tuohy / NHPR

There’s also the matter of the filing fee: $1,000, which can be paid in either cash or cashier’s check. The cost hasn’t changed since 1980. If a candidate can't come up with money to pay the filing fee, they can collect 10 petition signatures from registered voters of each county in New Hampshire — and those voters effectively nominate them for the ballot. The fee is so low (compared to other states) that no one has gone this route, Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan says.

“New Hampshire is the one place where the fourth-grader who has the dream to grow up and be president can actually try to make it happen here,” Scanlan says.

Will all the current candidates be listed on the ballot?
Credit Sara Plourde / NHPR

Yes, as long as they meet the qualifications and no one challenges their eligibility. The New Hampshire Secretary of State's office does not verify where each person lives, or if they are a natural born citizen. However, the state will follow up if presented with information a candidate is not qualifed. The candidates "swear under penalties of perjury" that they are qualified pursuant to the U.S. Constitution, Article II, Section 1, clause 4.  

The record number of candidates was 62, and that was the 1992 New Hampshire Primary, according to Secretary of State Bill Gardner.  In 2016, there were 58 candidates.

A lot of people are running for president. Will they all be on the New Hampshire primary ballot?

Yes. Visit the Secretary of State's website for a listing of all those who have filed for president. All will make the ballot when it’s printed. The candidate filing period opened Oct. 30. It closes Nov. 15 at 5 p.m. — and on that last day, declarations of candidacy are required to be submitted in person by the candidate.

The 2020 primary season has some notable recent developments. For one, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg is considering jumping into the race for the Democratic nomination and taking a pass on the New Hampshire primary filing. In that case, his name would not be on the New Hampshire ballot.

It's not unusual for the Secretary of State's office to receive declarations of candidacy on the final day of the filing period. Gardner notes that Gary Hart showed up at the State House on one of the final days in 1988. The same last-minute decision occurred this week with former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick throwing his hat into the Democratic primary on the second-to-last day of the filing period.

How do candidates who are neither Republican nor Democrat get on the ballot?

The first-in-the-nation presidential primary is for any officially recognized party in New Hampshire. Right now, only Democrats and Republicans are officially recognized by the state.  The Libertarian Party, for example, is not currently an official party in New Hampshire because it did not receive at least 4 percent in the last state general election.

Third party candidates, or independent candidates, can get their name on the general election ballot — but not in a primary.

Vermin Supreme, a familiar presidential candidate in New Hampshire, is running this time as a Libertarian.
Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR

The Libertarian Party of New Hampshire is, however, planning to hold its own "Presidential Preference Primary" at its convention in January. While this won't be a state-sanctioned primary election, it will be used to "inform [the delegates representing the Libertarian Party of New Hampshire] of the voters’ preferences before they attend the national convention in May 2020, where the Libertarian Party will choose their Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates."

In other words, Vermin Supreme, the fringe candidate perhaps best known for wearing a rubber boot on his head, will not be on the official 2020 New Hampshire primary ballot — even though he has been in the past. While he has previously run as a Republican or a Democrat, this year he's running as a Libertarian. He remains on the campaign trail, still sporting that boot.

When is the New Hampshire Primary?

We don't know. Really. Most of the media (and campaign staffers) anticipate the date will be Feb. 11, 2020, because that's a week after the Iowa caucuses. But only Secretary of State Bill Gardner has the authority to set it, and he hasn't finalized that decision.

After a filing period closes, the Secretary of State's office starts the process of preparing the ballots, which will have the date printed on them. Per the Help America Vote Act, the state has to have the ballots delivered to towns and cities 45 days before a primary.