State Watch

New Hampshire secretary of state, guardian of primary, to retire

Associated Press/Elise Amendola

New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, the zealous guardian of the first-in-the-nation presidential primary, will step down from an office he has held for more than four decades.

Gardner, elected by the legislature every two years since he first took office in 1976, told reporters Monday he would resign before the formal end of his term. He will be replaced by Dave Scanlan, his longtime chief deputy.

“I will be forever grateful for the adventure of serving the people of our state in our State House,” Gardner told reporters in his office in Concord. “This comes at probably the smoothest time for it to happen in the cycle of a Secretary of State’s four-year cycle, so to speak.”

He made his announcement flanked by Gov. Chris Sununu (R), the 11th governor with whom he has served. 

Gardner, 73, was a Democratic state representative before winning the Secretary’s office in 1976. He continued winning elections every two years, regardless of whether Democrats or Republicans controlled the majority. He rarely faced a serious challenger, with the exception of 2018, when he fended off a fellow Democrat by a margin of just four votes.

Party leaders on both sides of the aisle saw Gardner as the chief defender of New Hampshire’s place in the presidential nominating calendar. State law requires the Secretary of State to schedule New Hampshire’s primary seven days before any similar election, a position Gardner used to vault a small state of just 1.3 million residents to a key position atop the presidential nominating process.

“For decades, Bill Gardner has fiercely protected New Hampshire’s first in the nation presidential primary and overseen our elections that are truly a point of pride for our state — always open, fair, accessible and accurate,” Sununu said in a statement. “We will miss Bill and his vast institutional knowledge of New Hampshire people, politics and government.”

Gardner typically welcomes presidential candidates who are filing for the primary, whether they be sitting presidents or vice presidents, members of Congress or even long shots with little hope of succeeding. His office is lined with photographs of past presidential candidates taken as they paid their fee and shook his hand.

He earned the ire of some fellow Democrats when he agreed to serve on former President Donald Trump’s commission investigating alleged voter fraud in the 2016 elections, giving a veneer of bipartisanship to one of Trump’s earliest efforts to undermine confidence in elections. The commission disbanded without finding evidence of fraud, and Gardner criticized Trump’s unfounded allegations that voters were bussed from Massachusetts into New Hampshire, a state Trump lost twice.

Tags Bill Gardner Chris Sununu Donald Trump New Hampshire

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