FILE - Bill Gardner Donald Trump 11-04-2015

New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner (left) helps then-presidential candidate Donald Trump fill out papers to run in the New Hampshire presidential primary Nov. 4, 2015.

(The Center Square) – Longtime New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner is poised for another two-year term as the state’s top elections official.

Gardner, who is most prominent for his decades of advocacy for keeping the Granite State’s presidential primary as the first in the nation every four years, has served in his current role since 1976.

Every two years, the newly elected Legislature votes on who will be the secretary of state. In most cycles since his initial election to the role, Gardner has faced no opposition, but in 2018 he narrowly fended off a challenge from Colin Van Ostern, a former Democratic nominee for governor.

Gardner had hinted that he might retire after his current term ended, but with no challenger on the horizon this time, he opted to throw his hat in the ring again.

Before ascending to his current role, Gardner was a Democratic state lawmaker, but in recent years he’s had stronger support from Republicans. His 2018 election victory came with the support of the vast majority of the Republican lawmakers in the Legislature, while most Democrats went for Van Ostern in what turned out to be a 209-205 vote in Gardner’s favor.

The root of Democrats’ discontent with Gardner was his decision to participate in an election fraud commission initiated by President Donald Trump in the aftermath of the 2016 election. The commission ultimately disbanded without generating a report or any findings, but Democrats – in a prelude to the 2020 election disputes ongoing in several states – argued that the commission was a partisan exercise.

New Hampshire’s status as the first presidential primary is set in state law, but Gardner has argued that he has some latitude as far as how he ensures that the statute is adhered to, and that he works to actively ensure no other state can sneak in ahead.

“The law says that the New Hampshire presidential primary shall be seven or more days ahead of any other state that has a similar election,” Gardner told a radio program in 2018. “The law doesn't give the road map to how to make that happen. The law doesn't say when you have more than one state that has laws saying that their primary is going to be on the same day as New Hampshire, the law doesn't give you any guidance how to deal with those situations. And we've had multiple situations like that, either other states trying to have the primary on the same day or even ahead of us.”

Assuming the Legislature does confirm Gardner for another term when they meet Dec. 2, by the end of that term in 2022 Gardner would have been secretary of state for 46 years.

Regional Editor

Delphine Luneau is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years of experience. She was the editor of Suburban Life Media when its flagship was named best weekly in Illinois, and she has worked at papers in South Carolina, Indiana, Idaho and New York.