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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Most Popular Politician in New Hampshire

His popularity ratings would make John Lynch blush. His winning streak beats Ray Burton's. He was unopposed while unanimously winning a 17th term. He's Bill Gardner, and he will be New Hampshire's Secretary of State for another two years.

The House and Senate meet in Joint Convention at the beginning of each two-year session to elect two Constitutional Officers, Secretary of State and State Treasurer. State Senators Jack Barnes (R-Raymond) and Lou D'Allesandro (D-Manchester) nominated Gardner to the post. D'Allesandro said that New Hampshire's elections are the best in the world, thanks to the work of Gardner and his staff.

Gardner was elected to the New Hampshire House in 1972, as a Democrat from Manchester. After two terms, he was elected Secretary of State by the House and Senate in 1976. As Secretary, Gardner probably oversees more elections every other year than anyone else on the planet. With 400 House Members, 24 State Senators, five Executive Councilors, a Governor, and ten full sets of County Officers, Gardner was responsible for over 1,500 candidates in the September Primary and November General election.

Gardner is also required by law to serve as defender of New Hampshire's First in the Nation Primary. The Legislature has given the Secretary of State broad power to set the date of the Primary, largely based on its confidence in Gardner. He is confident that New Hampshire will keep its First in the Nation status in 2012.

Barring a serious primary challenge to President-Elect Obama, the Democratic Party isn't likely to make waves with the nominating calendar. And the Republican National Committee amended its rules at the summer convention, cementing New Hampshire and South Carolina as the only Primaries that can be held before February 1st, 2012. Iowa, and perhaps Nevada, will hold an earlier caucus, but Gardner must only guard against elections similar to New Hampshire's, primaries that assign delegates to the national conventions.

Gardner's last act before signing nearly 500 election certificates is to administer the dozens of recounts requested each election year. This year, none of the recounts changed the results reported on election night. Years before the nation ever heard of hanging chads, Gardner moved New Hampshire away from punch card ballots. All cities and towns either count their ballots by hand, or use "Optiscan" ballots, which still require every voters to put ink on paper, and more importantly, leave a solid and traceable paper trail. Gardner says that the recounts showed a few problems at the ballot box this year, including one set of ballots that appears to have been entered into the machine twice, but that none of these errors affected the outcome of any election.

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