High Drama, Comedy In Close Floor Fight To Keep New Hampshire’s Longtime SOS

New Hampshire Secretary of State William M. (Bill) Gardner. He is in charge of the department that oversees all general elections, primary elections, voter registration and recounts within the state, including the New Hampshire primary.
Orjan F. Ellingvag/Corbis News

Democracy is funny sometimes, even when it’s dead serious.

Longtime New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner (D) is hanging by a thread, falling just one vote short of the majority needed to win a 22nd term in office and remain a powerful force in the state’s first-in-the-nation presidential primaries.

Gardner led in the first round with 208 votes to former gubernatorial candidate Colin Van Ostern’s (D) 207 votes, one short of the majority needed to win another term. There was one “scattered” vote for neither candidate.

Gardner has held his job for more than four decades, acting as the chief defender of the state’s first-in-the-nation primaries and winning regular support from both Democrats and Republicans to stay in office. He was a prominent presence in the state’s fabled primary process, personally greeting politicians of both parties as they came in to register as presidential candidates in his office while fighting off periodic efforts from other states to upend the system and end his state’s primary primacy.

But Democrats have grown increasingly frustrated with Gardner in recent years as he sided repeatedly with Republicans to support voting restrictions including voter ID laws and stubbornly resisted reforms including electronic voting machines, online voting registration and digital modernization of his office. His decision to give bipartisan cover and lend his gravitas to Trump’s national voter fraud commission, led by lightning-rod outgoing Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R), was the final straw for many of them. And it led to his first real challenge in decades.

That result is ending chaotically, with members of the sprawling bicameral vote questioning whether or not a second round is needed and raising points of order about basic mathematical questions, byzantine political processes, and even whether the cafeteria could remain open a bit longer.

The winner will preside over New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary in 2020.

The joint chamber is revoting now. Watch the live-stream of the session here.

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