New Hampshire lawmakers have re-elected their veteran secretary of state and guardian of the first-in-the-nation presidential primary in a close vote.
Legislators voted 209-205 Wednesday to keep Bill Gardner, the nation’s longest-serving secretary of state. He has held the job for 42 years.
“I’m grateful,” Gardner said after the final vote.
Legislators voted twice. Neither Gardner or challenger Colin Van Ostern won a majority the first time.
When legislators first voted by paper, secret ballot, Gardner received 208 votes and Van Ostern received 207 votes. A vote of 209 was needed to win.
A legend in presidential politics, Gardner has now been elected to 22 two-year terms and has presided over ten presidential elections. He will oversee the next one in 2020.
Gardner hadn’t seen a challenger since 1984 but that changed this year when Van Ostern, former 2016 Democratic gubernatorial nominee, put his hat in the ring.
Gardner’s possible downfall likely started last year when he joined President Donald Trump’s controversial voter fraud commission. Gardner was criticized, even sued by the ACLU for agreeing to turn over New Hampshire voter information to the government.
On Wednesday, he defended those actions.
“The president of the country found out a lot sooner than he would have by me being on that commission about how the New Hampshire voting process really works,” Gardner said. “And that’s an example of why it’s always better to be at the table.”
Van Ostern countered that primary tradition is about more than any one person and that Gardner already politicized the office by backing GOP-led voter legislation to tighten voter registration rules.
Supporters say Gardner’s integrity, dedication, and reputation as a fierce defender of the state’s “first in the nation primary” helped him prevail.