As a hotly-contested swing state with same-day registration and the First-in-the-Nation Presidential Primary, New Hampshire fares well in terms of voter turnout during presidential elections relative to the nation as a whole. Approximately three out of four voting-age citizens are registered to vote, and turnout in presidential general elections routinely approaches 70%. Nevertheless, in most New Hampshire elections, the majority of eligible voters stays home and thousands of residents are legally disenfranchised or face informal barriers to voting. The following analysis covers voting in the most recent 2014 state and federal elections, as well as the most recent 2013 municipal elections in New Hampshire’s five largest cities for which data are publicly accessible: Manchester, Nashua, Concord, Dover, and Rochester. Historical voting data going back to 2000 are also considered for comparative purposes.
1.1 Voter Turnout in New Hampshire Elections
In federal and state general elections, voter turnout as a percentage of the voting-age population ranged from a high of 70% in the open presidential election of 2008 to a low of 40% in the midterm election of 2006. The average voter turnout in presidential and midterm elections between 2000-2014 was 67% and 43%, respectively. 68% of New Hampshire adults voted in the most recent presidential general election of 2012 and 47% voted in the midterm election of 2014, earning grades of B and C, respectively, where 80-100% turnout corresponds to a grade of A, 60-79% B, 40-59% C, 20-39% D, and less than 20% F. With 73% of New Hampshire adults registered to vote, the state receives a registration grade of B.
Figure 1: Voter Turnout (VAP) in New Hampshire Elections, 2004-2014
Primary elections are a different story. Turnout in presidential primaries ranged from around 30% in both 2004 and 2012 to 52% in 2008, with average turnout since 2000 standing at 39%. In state primary elections, turnout ranged from just 9.6% in 2006 to 24% in 2004 with average turnout at 16.5% between 2000-2014. At 30% and 16%, respectively, turnout in the most recent presidential primary of 2012 and state primary of 2014 earned grades of D and F. (9)
Figure 2: Voter Turnout (VAP) in 2013 Municipal Elections, Five Largest Cities in NH
Meanwhile, average turnout in New Hampshire’s five largest municipalities of Manchester, Nashua, Concord, Dover, and Rochester was even lower at 15% during the most recent local elections of 2013, earning a grade of F. (10) In all elections, especially state and local primary and general elections, the rate of voter turnout is positively correlated to the individual’s socioeconomic status (income and education), according to national surveys. (11)
Figure 3: Voter Turnout (VAP) in Most Recent New Hampshire Elections, 2013 and 2014
1.2 Legal Restrictions on Voting
Two categories of New Hampshire adults are legally ineligible to vote: non-citizens and people serving time in prison or jail. Approximately 34,000 New Hampshire adults, or 3.2% of the voting age population, are not permitted to vote because they lack citizenship status. (12) Although non-citizen voting has been found constitutional and was previously permitted in local and/or state elections by New Hampshire and approximately forty other states before the 1920s, every state except Maryland currently restricts the franchise to full-fledged citizens. (13)
The second category of disenfranchised people consists of the 5,054 citizens – 0.5% of the voting age population – who are currently incarcerated in New Hampshire, according to the latest official statistics for 2013. (14) Unlike New Hampshire’s neighbors Vermont and Maine but consistent with the 47 other states, state law forbids any person from casting a ballot while they are in prison or jail. In the absence of an objective standard of voter enfranchisement for non-citizens and people with criminal convictions in the United States, no grades are assigned.
Figure 4: New Hampshire Voting and Voting-Ineligible Population, 2012-14
1.3 Informal Barriers to Voting
New Hampshire’s low rate of turnout among eligible voters in most elections is attributed to a range of factors, some of are within and others beyond the control of individual voters. According to the most recent survey of voting behavior for which state-level data are available, the most common reasons given for not voting in New Hampshire are disapproval of candidate choices; unavailability to vote because of work- or family-related obligations; issues registering to vote or procuring the requisite ID; difficulty accessing the polling location and long lines at the polls; and illness. (15) People whose demographic characteristics correspond to low socioeconomic status disproportionately cite such practical barriers as their reasons for not voting, while other non-voters overwhelmingly cite disapproval of candidate choices. (16)
Figure 5: Reasons New Hampshire Non-Voters Gave for Not Voting, 2008
New Hampshire performs well in terms of voting administration on Election Day. A modest 1.8% of New Hampshire citizens reported problems at the polls in 2008. (17) The average reported wait time in New Hampshire in 2008 was 8 minutes. (18) Less than one percent of New Hampshire citizens had difficulty finding their polling place on Election Day or found their polling place poorly run, and 96% expressed confidence that their vote was counted correctly. (19)
Nevertheless, citizens who did not make it to the polls on Election Day faced other informal barriers to voting. New Hampshire currently provides only one of seven common modes of increasing voter access, same-day registration. For example, New Hampshire is one of six states that do not participate in the Motor Voter program through the DMV, (20) one of 17 states that do not provide the option of early/weekend voting before Election Day, and one of 20 states that do not permit the use of “no-excuses” mail or absentee ballots. (21)
Since 2012, New Hampshire has required all voters to present an acceptable photo ID at the polls or execute a qualified voter affidavit and return an address verification letter to the Secretary of State after the election. (22) New requirements scheduled to take effect in 2015 require voters who do not have an acceptable photo ID to cast provisional ballots only, have their photo taken, and complete a post-election follow-up by mail in order to have their vote counted. The law also limits the range of acceptable identification to driver’s licenses, state-issued identification cards, passports, military IDs, and in-state student identification cards. (23) An unofficial citizen investigation reported numerous instances of voter impersonation fraud which could not be verified for this report. (24) By contrast, academic analyses of 2000-2014 found no evidence of voter fraud in the Granite State. (25) There is considerable public debate about the appropriateness of these and other voting requirements; in the absence of widely-accepted voter access norms, no grades are assigned.
Summary Report Card: Voting
(9) Michael McDonald, United States Elections Project (University of Florida, December 2014)
(10) Derry ranks in the top five New Hampshire communities in terms of population but is classified as a town rather than a city; because of the relative inaccessibility of voter turnout data in smaller communities, the same has been limited to only the top five cities representing approximately one-fourth of the statewide population.
(11) Kay Lehman Schlozman, Sidney Verba, and Henry E, Brady, The Unheavenly Chorus: Unequal Political Voice and the Broken Promise of American Democracy (Princeton University Press, 2012)
(12) Michael McDonald, United States Elections Project (University of Florida, December 2014), available at http://www.electproject.org/home/voter-turnout/voter-turnout-data; According to the most recent available estimates, all but 15 (0.04%) of New Hampshire’s non-citizen immigrants are legally documented and pay local, state, and federal taxes while they wait to become naturalized (see: Jeffrey S Passel and D'Vera Cohn, “Unauthorized Immigrant Population: National and State Trends, 2010” (Washington, DC: Pew Hispanic Center, 2011))
(13) Ronald Hayduk. Democracy for All: Restoring Immigrant Voting Rights in the United States. (Routledge, 2006)
(14) National Institute of Corrections, Corrections Statistics by State - New Hampshire (2014), available at http://nicic.gov/statestats/?st=NH
(15) Michael Alvarez and Thad Hall. 2008 Survey of the Performance of American Elections. Rep. Caltech/MIT Voting Project, 25 Mar. 2009.
(17) Alvarez, Michael et al. 2008 Survey of the Performance of American Elections Final Report. Caltech/MIT Voting Project, 2009.
(20) United States Department of Justice, “About the National Motor Voter Registration Act” http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/vot/nvra/activ_nvra.php
(21) National Conference of State Legislatures, “Absentee and Early Voting” http://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/absentee-and-early-voting.aspx
(22) Underhill, Wendy. "Voter Identification Requirements - Voter ID Laws" National Conference of State Legislators. N.p., 24 Mar. 2015. Web.
(23) True, Morgan. “Repeal of voter ID law rejected in New Hampshire House.” Seacoast Online. 23 Mar 2013; National-level analysis of voter ID requirements on turnout show a marked suppression of less educated and less wealthy populations.
(24) Ed Naile, Coalition of New Hampshire Taxpayers, Concord, NH. Available at http://cnht.org/
(25) Levitt, Justin. “A comprehensive investigation of voter impersonation finds 31 credible incidents of one billion ballots cast” Washington Post, 6 Aug 2014.