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Column: N.H. Secretary of State Deserves Re-Election

  • New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, right, introduces one of the speakers at a meeting of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017 in Manchester, NH. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, center, and former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, left, also attend. Gardner opened the meeting by defending his participation and the panel's existence, saying it hasn't yet reached any conclusion. (AP Photo/Holly Ramer) ap — Holly Ramer

Published: 11/19/2018 10:29:59 PM
Modified: 11/19/2018 10:30:03 PM

We know Bill Gardner and his core values, how he makes decisions and his deep commitment to New Hampshire’s laws and Constitution.

Our deep involvement with Gardner goes back to the 1980s, first as elected officials and later in other roles, including serving on the Ballot Law Commission and setting up a vital records preservation grant program for city and town clerks.

Despite being from different political parties, we are in full agreement that Bill Gardner does what he thinks is right 100 percent of the time. He is never swayed by politics or partisan considerations.

We have known no one in public life who has higher ethical standards than Gardner or focuses more on what he believes is right for our state.

We know that he is very concerned that a substantial number of New Hampshire citizens believe that voter fraud is widespread in the state.

The November 2017 Granite State Poll, for example, found that 33 percent of New Hampshire residents believe voter fraud is somewhat or very serious. To help address this perception, Gardner made the politically unpopular decision to serve on President Donald Trump’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity and to support SB 3 and HB 1264, the two election law bills that tightened election procedures.

Reasonable arguments can be made both pro and con and, while we don’t necessarily agree with his decisions, we are in full agreement that Gardner acted without malice or intention to suppress voters.

The proof is in the pudding when you look at voter turnout. New Hampshire has consistently had much high voter participation than other states.

For example, in the 2016 presidential election, 69 percent of the voting age population in New Hampshire voted, compared with 55 percent nationally). The record-breaking turnout in the 2016 primary is yet another example of success under Gardner’s leadership.

And how are we doing when it comes to election administration? Our recent primary election went very smoothly and, by the next day, all of the results were known. This didn’t happen by accident — it is the direct result of Gardner’s deep commitment and skilled leadership. This positive result should never be taken for granted. Look at the election mess in Florida by comparison. That will never happen in New Hampshire as long as Bill Gardner is secretary of state.

A big part of this success is the team that Gardner assembled: quality people who have embraced his deep commitment to public service and nonpartisan fairness.

Suggestions have been made that Gardner has not modernized the secretary of state’s operations. One of us recently set up a new business and noted the ease of online registration with the Corporate Division of the Secretary of State’s Office. The office’s Vital Records Administration has now made it possible to get a copy of a birth certificate from any town clerk in the state. In recent years, the statewide voter registration system has been fully automated, and there is online training for election officials.

While the country is changing, one change we want to avoid is partisan elections for the secretary of state. The authors of our New Hampshire Constitution had the wisdom to have the secretary of state elected by the Legislature to try to avoid it becoming an overly partisan institution. This has worked well throughout our state’s history.

But now we find ourselves on the brink of change that could set a very dangerous precedent.

Do we really want to move to a system where the secretary of state, the guardian of our sacred state elections, could easily swing back and forth depending upon which political party has the most state representatives and senators?

Also, of course, Bill Gardner has been at the vanguard of protecting New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary.

Terry Shumaker, a former member of the Democratic National Committee and U.S. ambassador, and Steve Duprey, who serves on the Republican National Committee, have written that Gardner has “brilliantly” maneuvered to keep New Hampshire first, adding, “We believe the key to his success has been that he was not a partisan Democrat or Republican with political ambitions, but a dedicated public servant who is fully trusted by both parties to do the right thing.”

Former Gov. John Lynch has observed, “Everyone coming into Bill’s office knew they were getting nonpartisan advice and support. I don’t think we ought to risk losing that.”

We could not agree more and urge New Hampshire citizens to contact their state representatives and state senators before the Dec. 5 vote to urge them to support Bill Gardner’s re-election as secretary of state.

Charles Chandler, of Warren, has served as a Democratic state representative, selectmen, town and school moderator and ballot law commissioner. Douglass Teschner, of Haverhill, is a retired Republican state representative, former Peace Corps country director and current leadership consultant.

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