Turnout Nearly Nonexistent In Vote to Succeed Burton

  • Mike Cryans, of Hanover, stops by the Ward Two polls at the Methodist Church in Lebanon, N.H., on Jan. 21, 2014, to talk with Ruth Cioffredi and other poll workers. Cryans, who is a Grafton County commissioner, is running unopposed for Executive Council in the Democratic primary. (Valley News Ð Jennifer Hauck) Ê

    Mike Cryans, of Hanover, stops by the Ward Two polls at the Methodist Church in Lebanon, N.H., on Jan. 21, 2014, to talk with Ruth Cioffredi and other poll workers. Cryans, who is a Grafton County commissioner, is running unopposed for Executive Council in the Democratic primary. (Valley News Ð Jennifer Hauck) Ê Purchase photo reprints »

  • Mark Aldrich warms up in his truck for a few minutes after standing outside the polls in Lebanon, N.H., on Jan. 21, 2013. Aldrich is running in the Republican primary for Executive Council  Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

    Mark Aldrich warms up in his truck for a few minutes after standing outside the polls in Lebanon, N.H., on Jan. 21, 2013. Aldrich is running in the Republican primary for Executive Council Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »

  • Mike Cryans, of Hanover, stops by the Ward Two polls at the Methodist Church in Lebanon, N.H., on Jan. 21, 2014, to talk with Ruth Cioffredi and other poll workers. Cryans, who is a Grafton County commissioner, is running unopposed for Executive Council in the Democratic primary. (Valley News Ð Jennifer Hauck) Ê
  • Mark Aldrich warms up in his truck for a few minutes after standing outside the polls in Lebanon, N.H., on Jan. 21, 2013. Aldrich is running in the Republican primary for Executive Council  Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

Lebanon — After casting the 48th ballot of the day in Lebanon’s Ward 2 at mid-afternoon on Tuesday, Pat Aucoin looked around the entrance to the Methodist Church polling place for so much as one of the ward’s 2,900-plus other voters.

“Can you believe it?” Aucoin said. “It’s dreadful. I only knew about it because I saw the signs out here.”

Welcome to the club.

“I had to drop something at Three Tomatoes and saw the sign that said, ‘VOTE HERE,’ ” Wil Buskey said on his way out of the Ward 3 polls in the basement of Lebanon College. “I had no idea there was an election.”

Neither, it appeared, did many Upper Valley residents.

In Lebanon, out of 9,194 registered voters, 257 — or 2.8 percent — cast ballots in the Executive Council District 1 primary, which saw three Republicans and one unopposed Democrat seeking the right to run for the seat on the five-member council that Ray Burton held for decades until his death last November.

Likewise in Hanover, with 9,030 voters on the checklist, 201 — 2.1 percent — marked ballots.

Even with the extremely light turnout, there were winners yesterday. Grafton County Commissioner Mike Cryans, D-Hanover, was unopposed.

And shortly before 9 p.m., State Sen. Joe Kenney, R-Wakefield, accepted the concession, and endorsement, of former Belknap County Commissioner Christopher Boothby, R-Meredith. Mark Aldrich, of Lebanon, also ran on the Republican side.

Kenney and Cryans will face off in a special election on New Hampshire Town Meeting Day, March 11.

In Lebanon’s Ward 3 Tuesday afternoon, Inga and Olin Potter entered their booths with a little more advance notice than some voters.

“I found out from the radio,” Inga Potter said.

“Last week,” Olin Potter added. “We didn’t have any information about the various candidates.”

“You got a phone call,” Inga Potter continued.

“I got a recorded message,” Olin Potter said. “I’m not sure from whom.”

And the Potters’ preferred candidate?

“We took a guess,” Olin Potter said, without hinting at which party’s ballot he took into the booth. “A shot in the dark.”

Meanwhile, Bill Babineau entered the Ward 2 polls with a clear favorite: Kenney.

“He’s carrying on the Ray Burton tradition,” Babineau said. “I really respected Ray Burton; (Kenney has) the same character, I hope.”

Aldrich, who served on the staffs of former U.S. Sens. Gordon Humphrey and Bob Smith, spent the morning touring the Upper Valley side of the district, which covers the entire northern half of the state, in hopes of amassing enough votes to advance to the general election.

In Hanover, he received six of the 55 Republican votes cast compared to 22 for Boothby and 21 for Kenney.

In Lebanon, where his father once served as mayor, Aldrich’s 31 votes trailed Kenney with 58 and Boothby with 40.

“The caliber of the candidates has been pretty strong,” Aldrich said at mid-morning outside the Ward 3 polls, huddled in his sign-festooned car in frigid temperatures. “Personally, I think the district is a toss-up.”

For his part, Cryans rose before dawn and ran 10 miles, before driving to Haverhill and working his way down through polling places in Piermont, Orford, Lyme, Hanover, Lebanon, Plainfield, Claremont and Newport.

“Ray redefined the race,” Cryans said outside the Ward 2 polls in Lebanon. “The voters I’ve been talking to all have issues that are important to them, but what I’ve heard most of all is, ‘Don’t forget constituent service.’ ”

The Executive Council dates back to colonial times, and its duties range from hearing pardon requests and overseeing the state’s 10-year highway plan to approving most state spending — including all contracts of $10,000 or more — and nominees for judges, commissioners, notaries public and commissioners of deeds, as well as confirming the governor’s nominees for cabinet posts.

“When he was first on the council, Ray would shotgun letters to the Congressional delegation about what he wanted for this project or that constituent,” Aldrich recalled. “As time went on, he got very sophisticated about how to go about it. It was fun to watch him evolve that way. He spent more than 30 years building his capabilities and his network.”

Now, Cryans, who lost a bid to unseat Burton in 1996, is aiming to build out from his own network.

“I always knew there was a big difference between areas in the district,” Cryans said. “But until you run for this, you don’t realize how widespread the district is.”

Burton won re-election cycle after cycle by attending, it seemed, every public event, big and small, throughout the district, and memorizing names and faces of elected officials and residents alike.

“Ray Burton had this long legacy,” said Dean Spiliotes, a political blogger and civic scholar in the School of Arts and Sciences at Southern New Hampshire University. “Some people use (the Executive Council) as a stepping stone, others as a base of power, in the case of Ray Burton.”

David Corriveau can be reached at dacorriveau@gmail.com and at 603-727-3304.