Mid-break N.H. Primary Frustrates Potential Out-of-state Voters

This story was written by Joe Astrouski, The Equinox
Scrambling to maintain New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary status, Secretary of State William Gardner has scheduled the state's presidential primary for January 8, 2008.

Gardner announced the move, which some say could decrease student voting, on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

"On the eve of Thanksgiving, a unique American tradition, I am pleased to announce that another unique and important American tradition will endure," said Gardner of the New Hampshire primary.

Presidential candidates of both parties commended Gardner for his decision.

"It is good news that New Hampshire's traditional role in the process has been maintained," said Republican Mitt Romney.

"I support New Hampshire's special role in the primary process," said Democrat Hillary Clinton, after Gardner's announcement. "I look forward to discussing the important issues in this race with Granite State voters over the next 47 days."

New Hampshire's college students, however, will be spending most of those days, including election day, away on winter break.

Brian Green, sociology professor and faculty sponsor of the Keene State College Student Democrats Brian Green says out-of-state students, who can register to vote in New Hampshire, may be less likely to participate in the primary.

"For New Hampshire residents, I don't think it'll affect them much," said Green. "For out-of-state it might mean not getting a chance to vote in the New Hampshire primary."

Those out-of-state students make up a large chunk of New Hampshire's college population. Plymouth State University has the lowest percentage of out-of-state students with 43 percent of its students coming from other states, while Dartmouth College has the highest with 97 percent of its undergraduate students coming from outside New Hampshire.

Since out-of-state students who register to vote use their college address, they have to either vote in the city of their school or vote by mail with an absentee ballot.

KSC political science professor and primary expert Chuck Weed agrees the mid-break primary date may hurt voter turnout among college students, but says he doubts that would significantly affect the election results.

"I think it will probably cut participation," said Weed, "but student participation isn't strong anyway. For 18 to 24-year-olds, 30 percent participation is a really good year."

Weed says students are typically the least likely to vote or have a party affiliation. At the same time, he credits both Gardner and Keene City Clerk Patricia Little for what he says are their efforts to increase voter participation among all voters, including college students.

Dismissing suggestions that the primary date was picked to discourage student voting, Weed said other states had moved their primaries earlier in a practice he calls "front-end loading."

That role had been threatened as other states moved their primaries earlier, according to Weed, who explained that those states were practicing what he calls front-end loading.

"Gardner had been waiting on Michigan," said Weed, explaining the decision behind the primary date and time it took to become official. "All these states compete to be first."

That poses a problem, since New Hampshire law requires its primary to precede any other state's by at least seven days. Only the Iowa caucuses take place before the Granite State's contest.

When Michigan set its primary date for January 15, Gardner chose to set New Hampshire's for January 8.

While that means New Hampshire maintains its first-in-the-nation status, it also means most of the state's college students will be on winter break during the primary.

"I think they sincerely want t get people out," said Weed. "They're going way out of their way to make it possible to get students absentee ballots. And this city clerk, in Keene, has always been working to increase voter turnout."

Weed pointed to two planned voter registration drives on the KSC campus facilitated by the City Clerk's office.

He also said that how or whether a person votes when they first become eligible can affect whether they vote later in life.

"The first time a person votes, or can vote, sets the pattern for the rest of their life," said Weed. "Now that they can vote, do they vote?
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