Lawmaker Proposes Closing N.H.'s Primaries, Cites Potential For Electoral Sabotage

Feb 21, 2017

The way Rep. Norman Silber sees it, a party primary is supposed to select the best person who represents the values and platform of that particular political party — and allowing undeclared voters to weigh in allows for too much electoral mischief.

“It’s not unheard of that some true members of a party who happen to be registered as undeclared choose to vote in the other party’s primary to try to get the worst candidate or at least the one notionally easiest to beat for the general election,” Silber, a Republican from Gilford, told his colleagues at a House Election Law Committee hearing Tuesday morning. “And this applies irrespective of what party you’re registered as.”

The first-term representative introduced a bill this week that would explicitly ban undeclared voters from participating in primary elections in New Hampshire, unless they change their registration before Election Day.

(The original version of Silber's bill would have eliminated same-day voter registration and imposed new rules for student identification cards used for voting, but he's now opting to focus solely on rules around party primaries. An updated version of his bill is likely to appear online soon.)

About 40 percent of New Hampshire's voters are not registered with any political party, making undeclared voters the largest political bloc in the state.

Several people testifying against the bill said it could diminish civic participation and potentially undermine the value of New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary.

Right now, undeclared voters have to temporarily register with a political party before receiving a ballot to vote in a primary election. Then, they have the option to return to undeclared status immediately after voting.

Under existing law, political parties in New Hampshire have the authority to change party rules governing who can participate.

New Hampshire is one of about nine states that allow unaffiliated voters to participate in party primaries but do not allow registered voters of one political party to participate in the contest of another party, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.