While the position of secretary of state is directly elected in most states, in New Hampshire it’s chosen by the members of the state legislature. And with Democrats winning back both the state Senate and House in the Granite State last week, lawmakers are now poised to pick an excellent candidate who's devoted to protecting and expanding voting rights, Democrat Colin Van Ostern.
Indeed, state House Democrats just held an informal party caucus vote where they overwhelmingly said they’d back Van Ostern over incumbent Bill Gardner, who has been in office since 1976. Though nominally a Democrat, Gardner eagerly served on Donald Trump's bogus voter fraud commission and has backed multiple voter suppression laws targeting college students that Republican legislators passed after they took control of state government following the 2016 elections. That betrayal cost Gardner the bipartisan support he had long enjoyed, leading top Democrats to rally around Van Ostern as a far better alternative.
Now the bill has come due. After flipping both chambers, New Hampshire Democrats now have a 14-10 edge in the Senate and 234 out of 400 seats in the House—the second-largest majority they’ve ever held since the foundation of the Republican Party in the 1850s. As a result, Democrats will have a 248-176 advantage when both chambers vote in a joint session early next month to elect a new secretary of state.
On the basis of this straw poll, which Van Ostern won 179-23 over Gardner (with a third candidate taking 7 votes), Van Ostern could afford to lose up to 35 Democratic votes and still attain the 213 votes he needs to prevail, since Republican legislators are likely to continue backing Gardner. While that vote total still leaves Van Ostern short of a majority, it doesn't include the Senate. In addition, a number of Democrats didn't participate, and several races are still uncalled, so this demonstration of support shows Van Ostern has a good shot at winning.
Van Ostern is a strong advocate for policies to make voting easier and more accessible in an effort to boost turnout. He supports automatic voter registration, a bipartisan independent redistricting commission, a ban on corporate donations to state campaigns, and rolling back Republicans' suppression of student voters. By contrast, Gardner fought to implement a GOP-backed anti student voter law even in defiance of a court order this fall, and removing him from office would finally give New Hampshire a chief elections official who is committed to voting rights.