WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden wasn’t successful in unseating New Hampshire from the first-in-the-nation primary slot it has held for more than a century, but his campaign’s announcement this week that he won’t appear on the state’s 2024 primary ballot has nonetheless added a new wrinkle to the contest and created complications for his campaign, state election officials, and voters.
Although several key details about next year’s New Hampshire primary have yet to be determined, the event has begun to take shape.
State law gives New Hampshire Secretary of State David Scanlan exclusive authority to set the date for the 2024 primary, but he has yet to do so. For 40 years, it has been held the Tuesday following the Iowa caucuses, which are scheduled for Jan. 15. State law also says the primary must be held at least seven days before any similar contest. The South Carolina Democratic primary on Feb. 3 is the earliest contest on the Democratic National Committee’s official calendar. The only Tuesday that fits within these parameters is Jan. 23.
The move is the latest development in a long-simmering dispute within the Democratic Party over which states and regions should have the first say in determining the party’s presidential nominees every four years. Iowa and New Hampshire have traditionally kicked off the nomination process for both parties, but other states have challenged their prime placement in the calendar over the years. This has resulted in states leapfrogging one another and a steadily earlier start to the primary campaign season.
Biden, who placed fifth in New Hampshire in 2020, urged Democratic Party officials last year to rejigger the primary calendar with South Carolina in the lead-off position. His 29-point win in the 2020 South Carolina primary ended his string of embarrassing early-state losses that year and put his campaign on positive footing to win the nomination. The DNC adopted the president’s proposal and scheduled the South Carolina primary to lead the party’s nomination process on Feb. 3, with New Hampshire and Nevada to follow on Feb. 6.
However, New Hampshire indicated its intent to maintain its first-in-the-nation primary status in violation of party rules and risk possible penalties from the DNC down the road. Rather than flout the rules he urged the national party to adopt, Biden chose to stay off the ballot in New Hampshire.
Biden’s name will not appear as a printed option on the New Hampshire primary ballot. However, some state Democratic leaders have begun organizing a write-in effort on Biden’s behalf. The move is not without precedent. President Lyndon Johnson won the New Hampshire primary in 1968 as a write-in candidate, although he dropped out of the race 19 days later.
State Democratic Party Chairman Raymond Buckley said in a social media post, “The reality is that Joe Biden will win the (New Hampshire primary) in January, win renomination in Chicago and will be re-elected next November.”
According to the secretary of state, local officials will process ballots with write-in votes on election night and tabulate them along with votes for other candidates. Under state law, they must post their results publicly and submit their tallies to the secretary of state by 8 a.m. the following morning. It’s not clear whether these election night write-in totals will be broken down by individual candidates.
In elections across the country, it is rare for officials to provide vote totals for individual write-in candidates on election night. It is more common to release a cumulative total for all write-in candidates on election night and then provide a more detailed breakdown at a later date. That was the case in Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s successful write-in reelection campaign in Alaska in 2010. In that race, Murkowski received 99% of the write-in votes cast, but the final result wasn’t known until more than two weeks after Election Day.
Scanlan said he will urge towns to enlist additional help to speed up the count, but he sounded optimistic about the process in comments to reporters on Tuesday.
“It sounds like it would be a big job, but you have to remember, it is one race where it is ‘vote for one,’ and it’s fairly easy to sort through the ballots,” he said. “I think it is a challenge that can be overcome.”
In the 2020 New Hampshire Democratic primary, write-in votes comprised 2% of the total vote, or about 6,000 votes.
Party rules don’t bar a write-in candidate from winning delegates. Delegates are allocated proportionally based on the statewide vote and the vote in each of the state’s two congressional districts.
The larger question is whether, and how, the national party would punish New Hampshire Democrats for holding their primary earlier than allowed. One option would be to strip the state of all its delegate votes at next year’s national convention in Chicago. This would risk alienating the state’s most influential Democrats who would be critical in turning out supporters in a general election swing state. Another option would be seating all of New Hampshire’s delegates but giving them half or some fraction of a full vote on the convention floor. Or the national party could decide to do nothing.
In 2008, when Michigan and Florida held primaries earlier than allowed under party rules, the DNC opted to try all three. Initially, it said both states would be stripped of all their delegates. Then, after negotiations with the campaigns of then-Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, it announced that delegates from both states could each cast half a vote. Finally, shortly before the convention began, party officials voted to grant Michigan and Florida delegates full voting rights in the interest of party unity.
The simplest path to get on the New Hampshire presidential primary ballot is to submit a Declaration of Candidacy and pay a $1,000 filing fee. The minimal filing requirements usually result in a crowded field. In the 2020 primary, there were 33 Democratic and 17 Republican candidates on the ballots. Voters may write the name of another candidate in the blank space marked “WRITE-IN” at the end of the list of candidates.
The candidate filing period ends Friday at 5 p.m. ET. As of Wednesday, 13 Democrats had submitted the necessary paperwork to appear on the ballot, including 2020 hopeful Marianne Williamson. Minnesota U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips has not filed but is widely expected to do so. Twenty-one Republicans filed, including all of the major candidates.
The AP will report vote totals in both the Democratic and Republican New Hampshire primaries. For Democrats, this will include any write-in vote totals and details by candidate that the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s office makes available. The AP does not make projections and will declare a winner only when it’s determined there is no scenario that would allow the trailing candidates to close the gap. A significant amount of write-in votes may slow the race-calling process if elections officials don’t immediately provide a breakdown by candidate.
Associated Press writers Holly Ramer in Concord, New Hampshire, and Will Weissert in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.