Biden isn’t on the ballot in New Hampshire’s primary. Here’s why

Twenty-one Democratic candidates will appear on the New Hampshire primary ballot Tuesday, but incumbent President Joe Biden isn’t one of them.

He’s the first president running for reelection to skip the Granite State primary in more than 50 years.

Why? It’s all about a change to the Democratic National Committee’s rules that made South Carolina — not New Hampshire — the first official primary of the Democratic presidential nominating cycle.

Because the New Hampshire primary is “non-compliant” with new DNC rules, the national party deemed the contest “meaningless.” The winner next Tuesday will be in name only, walking away with no delegates to the convention in August.

New Hampshire leaders – both Republicans and Democrats – were not pleased, banding together to uphold state law that requires its voters to have the first primary New Hampshire Attorney General Brendan O’Donnell filed his own cease-and-desist letter accusing the DNC of engaging in voter suppression.

“This is the election,” said New Hampshire Secretary of State David Scanlan, a Republican, who oversees the state’s election process. “There is no other election taking place in New Hampshire where delegates are going to be awarded to the convention. So whether the Democratic National Committee decides to recognize those delegates or not, that’s on them.”

So who is on the ballot?

The DNC instructed candidates to “take all steps possible not to participate” in the New Hampshire primary as currently scheduled. Two high-profile Democratic challengers ignored the DNC: Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips and Marianne Williamson, an author making her second run for the nomination. Biden chose to skip the state altogether.

“It’s really unfortunate and sad that the president of the United States chose not to be on the New Hampshire ballot,” Scanlan told the NewsHour. “The decision not to do that comes across as petty, but New Hampshire is moving forward with or without him.”

Can New Hampshire voters cast a vote for Biden?

Enter the “write-in Biden” effort.

It’s a grassroots and mostly volunteer campaign led by the president’s supporters in New Hampshire, and it’s running on a shoestring budget. Organizers hope to recruit thousands of volunteers to stand outside every voting location in the state to tell people how to write-in the president’s name on the ballot. Since the effort launched last fall, a super PAC has also joined the effort, spending about $1.25 million so far on direct mailings and advertising.

A sample New Hampshire ballot showing all 21 Democratic candidates. Not listed? President Joe Biden. Image courtesy of New Hampshire Secretary of State

While high-profile Democrats in and out of the state are vocally supportive of the write-in effort, it is unaffiliated with Biden’s official reelection campaign. The goal is simply to get Joe Biden a victory, and organizers are lowering expectations for what a victory looks like. One Democrat connected to the super PAC told the NewsHour a win is getting just one more vote than the candidate in second place.

How do write-in campaigns work?

Write-in campaigns can be a logistical nightmare that require a lot of voter education. The president’s supporters have to explain to voters to look all the way at the bottom of the ballot — skipping the long list of Democratic candidates — to fill in a bubble and write the president’s name.

Organizers say one thing is to their advantage: “Joe Biden” is an easy name to spell. They take comfort in the successful 2010 write-in campaign of Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski in Alaska, which required significant ad spending to teach voters how to spell her name. Plus, New Hampshire’s secretary of state is expected to allow misspellings to count if the voter’s intent is clear.

Where Biden stands

Recent polling suggests that despite the challenges of a write-in campaign, Biden has a comfortable lead over the 21 candidates whose names are actually on the ballot. More than three-quarters of Democratic voters have decided who they will vote for, and 69 percent plan on writing in Biden’s name, according to a CNN/University of New Hampshire poll. That’s far ahead of Phillips and Williamson, who have 7 and 6 percent respectively. (In March 1968, President Lyndon Baines Johnson, the last incumbent to run as a write-in candidate in New Hampshire, won a narrow 7-point victory over Sen. Eugene McCarthy before dropping out of the race later that month.)

Who are the other Democratic candidates?

Phillips entered the campaign in late October and has been trying to grow his name recognition in the months since, recently running his first ads in New Hampshire. While his advisers at one time suggested he could win more than 40 percent of the vote, Phillips recently told Politico that finishing around 20 percent “would be magnificent.” He also suggested that getting anything less than 60 percent of the vote should be troubling to the incumbent.

The eventual winner of the Democratic primary will have a lot to do with voter turnout on Tuesday. With an incumbent running without major competition, the secretary of state would usually expect lower turnout in the Democratic race, but the write-in campaign is complicating his turnout projections, which he expects to announce this week.

Who is eligible to vote in New Hampshire?

Nearly 40 percent of the state’s voters are unaffiliated with a political party and can vote in either the Republican or Democratic primary. That includes around 4,000 Democrats who switched their voter registration to undeclared ahead of the October deadline. Many intend to vote in the Republican primary.

“The energy and the enthusiasm and the interest is clearly on the Republican side because of the number of candidates who are engaged in that race,” Scanlan said.

Thalia Floras, a lifelong New Hampshire resident, changed her party registration for the first time ever ahead of this election, from Democrat to undeclared. She has grown weary about Biden’s age and thinks he should not have run for a second term. But because her vote in the Democratic primary for either Williamson or Phillips (“both great candidates,” she said) would not count toward their delegate totals, she’s planning to vote for former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley in the Republican primary instead.

“I want to boost the candidate that not only could have a chance to beat Donald Trump but that I can respect as my president,” she said.

Floras and her friend Hella Ross went to dozens of town hall meetings to hear from the candidates directly and learn about their positions.

Ross, another lifelong Democrat, was also hoping to vote in the Democratic primary and said she would support either Phillips or Williamson as the nominee.

“This particular election is calling for desperate measures,” she said. Like her friend, she plans to vote for Haley, who she believes is “best positioned right now to defeat Trump.”

How will a write-in affect vote counting?

The prospect of Democrats staying home or undeclared voters choosing a Republican ballot is just one of the complicated calculations ahead of election day next week. A Democratic primary with potentially a large number of write-in votes will complicate counting, too.

Many smaller towns in the state hand count all of their ballots. Larger cities will have machines that separate out the write-in ballots that will then be counted by hand. Local election officials have been recruiting extra volunteers to help with the counting, which will continue on primary night until every vote is counted.

That won’t be unusually late, the secretary of state said. Despite the hand count, there is just one race on the ballot, which Scanlan said will simplify the process. He expects most of the results to be reported by 10 p.m. local time, just two hours after the last polls close.

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