In a constituent letter explaining her position on the controversial H.R. 1 election law proposal, Sen. Maggie Hassan acknowledges New Hampshire doesn’t need election reform. But the Granite State Democrat is supporting the sweeping bill out of concerns for voters elsewhere.
“New Hampshire has a strong record of administering fair and free elections, one which I am proud to see continued and which this measure would not change,” Hassan wrote in a form letter to a constituent opposing the bill. “Rather, the For the People Act would help ensure that all Americans have the same opportunities to participate in our democracy.”
Then she added, “I will do everything in my power to ensure the integrity of our democracy and our democratic institutions while protecting New Hampshire’s system of well-run elections.”
The constituent in this case happened to be Republican National Committeeman Chris Ager, who was part of an H.R. 1 protest outside Hassan’s Manchester office on Tuesday.
“I wrote her like any other constituent, asking her to vote against the bill. She writes back that New Hampshire doesn’t have a problem, but she’s going to force us to change our system to take care of other people? That’s not her job,” Ager said. “We didn’t elect her to take care of other people, we elected her to take care of New Hampshire.”
In fact, H.R. 1 would impose significant changes in New Hampshire’s election laws, including mandating weeks of early voting and the counting of late-arriving ballots, both of which would violate the state’s constitution, according to Secretary of State Bill Gardner. Republicans at Tuesday’s protest echoed the complaint that Hassan and the rest of the state’s federal delegation are putting outside interests ahead of New Hampshire’s.
“We don’t have a voting problem here in New Hampshire and they all know it,” Stepanek said. “Shaheen and Pappas and Kuster were elected by the New Hampshire citizens to represent and protect, first and foremost, New Hampshire. And they need to step up to the plate.”
Stepanek also repeated the claim that H.R. 1 endangers New Hamsphire’s First-In-The-Nation primary status, a charge New Hampshire Democrats vociferously deny.
“This bill has nothing to do with the presidential nominating calendar, and Sen. Hassan will always stand up to protect New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation status,” Hassan said through a spokesperson last week. (Hassan does not hold press availabilities and she declined repeated requests for comment.)
NH Democratic Party chairman Ray Buckley has been more adamant, calling the GOP’s FITN charge “a lie,” and criticizing fellow Democrat Gardner for raising the issue.
“The For the People Act has nothing to do with the presidential nominating calendar. This bill prevents billionaires from buying elections, which is exactly why Chris Sununu and the Kochs are so afraid of it,” Buckley said.
So, does New Hampshire have a problem with “billionaires buying elections?” Is that why Buckley and New Hampshire Democrats support extending federal control over Granite State elections?
Stepanek says Buckley is just “toeing the line for national Democrats.”
“I feel bad for my counterpart, he’s between a rock and a hard place. But he has to understand that the First in the Nation primary, which he’s defended in the past and I will defend, is in danger. He needs to join me in defending it.”
Democrats argue that presidential primary contests are run by the political parties, not the states, and therefore would be beyond the reach of H.R. 1. But New Hampshire’s situation is unusual, if not unique. The state has a law mandating that the Granite State go first.
“If Congress can tell us how to vote, and that we have to let people vote early and vote late, why can’t they tell us when we can have our primary?” Gardner told NHJournal. “If they can go against our constitution, they can override our First In The Nation law.”
Regardless of who’s right, Republicans clearly believe they have a winning issue. Republican National Committee Co-Chair Tommy Hicks traveled from D.C. to Manchester to, as he put it, “protest this crazy bill.”
Asked what his message is for the New Hampshire senator, Hicks said, “Democrats are acting like they have a mandate, and they do not. And whether it’s the $1.9 trillion COVID relief package where only 9 percent actually goes to relief, or H.R. 1, which would be a national takeover of our elections, they’re going to pay the ultimate price for these radical agenda items they’ve been forcing on the American people.”