The NCSL Blog


By Ben Williams

With the Iowa caucuses in the rearview mirror (perhaps permanently), the 2020 presidential nominating process now shifts its attention to New Hampshire. Since the results of Iowa are still murky, Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary takes on even greater importance.  

Scenes from Iowa caucus site Precinct 38 at Drake University on Monday in Des Moines, Iowa. | M. Scott Mahaskey/POLITICOUnlike Iowa’s party-run caucus, New Hampshire selects its winner through an election administered by professional election officials.

But New Hampshire’s elections processes differ in important ways from other states, some of which may come into play on Tuesday:

  • It’s legally required to be first. New Hampshire’s secretary of state is required by law to set its primary “seven days or more immediately preceding the date on which any other state shall hold a similar election.” This means if a state attempts to schedule an election prior to New Hampshire’s traditional date, the secretary of state would be forced to move New Hampshire’s date forward on the calendar to remain first in the nation.
  • It's administered at the township level. In most states, elections are tabulated at the county level (though the administrative structures vary state by state). In New Hampshire, however, elections results are tabulated at the township level. This greatly multiplies the number of jurisdictions reporting results to the secretary of state’s office. While the Granite State has only 10 counties, it has 13 cities, 221 townships and 25 unincorporated places.
  • There is no early voting. New Hampshire does offer no-excuse absentee voting, but does not offer early voting. This means the vast majority of ballots will be cast on Tuesday, giving campaigns the opportunity to both react to Iowa and make their final pitch before voters head to the polls.
  • All votes are cast via paper ballot. In New Hampshire, the secretary of state distributes paper ballots to all voting precincts across the state. Voters mark their choices on those ballots, which are tabulated by machine. If a technological problem with the tabulation machines occurred, an accurate count could still be provided by hand (though it would take much longer to learn the result).

Ben Williams is a policy specialist in NCSL's Elections and Redistricting Program.

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This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.