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New Hampshire secretary of state predicts record turnout

More snow is headed to New England, but New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner expects participation in the Tuesday vote to exceed that of 2008.
Attendees laugh as Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. speaks during a campaign stop at Exeter Town Hall, Feb. 5, 2016, in Exeter, N.H. (Photo by John Minchillo/AP)
Attendees laugh as Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. speaks during a campaign stop at Exeter Town Hall, Feb. 5, 2016, in Exeter, N.H.

CONCORD, N.H. — Despite more snow headed to New England, New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner predicts "record" turnout for this Tuesday's presidential primary.

"I expect that the turnout of this presidential primary will break a record of the number of votes cast," he told reporters in his office Friday. "I thought that in 2008 we might not see anything like that for a while because that was such an incredible turnout but I think that this one will actually exceed that."

He predicts that there will be a total of about 550,000 votes cast on Tuesday - more than the 529,000 cast in 2008. He also thinks more ballots will be cast for Republicans than Democrats: 282,000 for GOP candidates and 268,000 for Democrats. New Hampshire has historically had the highest or second-highest presidential primary turnout rate in the country. If vote totals meet Gardner's predictions, then 62 percent of registered voters (but just 55 percent of people of voting age) would participate.

Gardner thought the impact of snow would be "minimal." He recalled the 1984 election, noting a blizzard where it snowed for "like 20 hours."

"There wasn't a car on the road, but the governor had the plow trucks going three shifts so make sure that everybody could get around," he reminisced, adding that large numbers of people still went to the polls.

This year, Gardner said, "If (the snow) has an impact, it would be a minimal impact in my opinion."

He's basing his high turnout prediction on what he thinks is high enthusiasm this year.

"The whole cycle, going back to when the filing period began in November. And the participation - the New Hampshire voters talking about this," he said.

He also reported updated registration numbers in the state: 231,376 Democrats is an increase in 26 percent; 262,111 Republicans, an increase of 30 percent; and 389,472 undeclared voters, which is a 44 percent increase. (Undeclared voters can briefly switch their registration to one of the two parties, but registered Democrats and Republicans can only vote in their respective primaries and cannot switch party affiliation before the vote.)

Gardner also reminded reporters of bellwether towns in New Hampshire that have each correctly chosen the winners of the primary since 1952. On the Republican side, he named East Kingston, Lancaster, Newmarket, Pembroke, Rochester, Sanbornton, and Washington. And on the Democratic side, he named Epping, Hudson, Kingston, Laconia, Merrimack, and Rollinsford.

Gardner noted that most people in New Hampshire actually cast their ballots on Election Day instead of voting by absentee. In the last two New Hampshire primaries, only 4.7 percent of ballots were cast absentee and 95 percent of the people voted on Election Day. "That's unlike anywhere in the country. People want to wait and do it on the day," he said.

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