Protecting the primary: William Gardner


By Benjamin Engle

Since 1976, William Gardner’s official title has been the New Hampshire Secretary of State, though if one inquires around Manchester and Concord, his job has a greater importance. As Secretary of State, Gardner is known as the “protector” of New Hampshire’s first presidential primary in the nation.

Gardner, a former member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, is an avid supporter of his state’s primary because of its importance to New Hampshire and the United States. During his conversation with New Hampshire mini-term participants, Gardner stressed the significance of the primary by explaining that over half of the voting age population participated in the 2008 presidential primary and that less than 5% of the votes were cast via absentee ballots. Gardner believes that citizens want to make sure they have seen everything before casting their vote.

“New Hampshire is notable for being unpredictable,” Gardner added. “It doesn’t take much for something to happen.”

Gardner, a historian of New Hampshire and its primary, has observed that unscripted moments can be powerful towards the end of a campaign and that almost every primary has experienced these types of moments.

Despite Iowa’s reputation for having the first presidential caucuses of the presidential election season, Gardner explained that the tradition of the New Hampshire primary dates back to a much earlier time. While the legislation stating that a primary be held every four years is turning 100 years old, it was not until 1975 that New Hampshire decided to hold their presidential primary seven days before the second one.

“The seven days is so that in the event something surprising happens here, the rest of the country will have an opportunity for a glimpse of what this [candidate] is,” added Gardner.

Gardner used former President Jimmy Carter as an example of someone who was considered to be a fringe candidate with no money or fame, but who won in New Hampshire and, as a result, gained momentum going into the Florida primary. Gardner believes that the New Hampshire primary is important for not only the big political names, but also the “little guys.”

Traditionally, the New Hampshire primary was held on Town Meeting Day, the one day of the year in which citizens would vote, in person, if they supported building a new firehouse or other types of public decisions.

“Because [the primary was] scheduled on Town Meeting Day, it [was] the purest form of democracy,” Gardner explained.

The Secretary of State of New Hampshire, unlike other states, does not screen the candidates before they are put on the ballot. Instead, if a candidate can either pay the $1000 application fee or indicate that they can’t afford the fee, they will be placed on the ballot.

In the upcoming primary on January 10, there will be 30 Republicans and 14 Democrats on the ballot.

“In this state, anyone who wants to be on the ballot can be,” said Gardner. “We want to make sure that [the primary] is inclusive.”

As a result of New Hampshire’s small land area, candidates have the opportunity to visit most, if not all, of the towns in the state. This gives all of the candidates a chance to be successful.

“The little guy can actually change the course of history,” Gardner added. “…Across the country, other [states] were asking ‘why can’t we have the same thing?’”


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