CONCORD, N.H. -- New Hampshire, the first state to have its ballots counted for President George Washington in 1789, carried out that tradition once again Monday when Democrats formally cast the state’s four Electoral College votes for President Barack Obama.
Secretary of State William Gardner opened the ceremony by displaying a copy of the U.S. Senate journal in which New Hampshire’s votes for Washington were recorded ahead of any other state.
"From the very beginning -- George Washington’s first election -- New Hampshire played a pretty special role, not because New Hampshire asked to play that role, but it happened," said Gardner, who ends up in the spotlight every four years when he chooses a date for the state’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary.
Monday’s ceremony capped a long campaign season that started well before the Jan. 10 primary. New Hampshire remained a key swing state through the Nov. 6 general election, which Obama won with 369,561 votes to Republican Mitt Romney’s 329,918. New Hampshire was one of only four states where more than 70 percent of the voting eligible adults cast ballots in November, Gardner said.
"It’s been a long haul for all of us ... but the people of the state did their job," said Gardner, who was presiding over his 10th Electoral College vote.
This year’s electors were C. Arthur Soucy of Manchester, James Demers of Concord, Joanne Dowdell of Portsmouth and Mary Rauh of New Castle. All are longtime activists who have served as local elected officials, have run for office or were heavily involved in the Obama campaign. They signed the ballots and sealed the envelopes with wax that has been in the Secretary of State’s office since at least the 1930s.
"It is a particularly proud day for me as New Hampshire’s first African-American member of the Electoral College," said Dowdell. "It is a sincere honor to be casting that vote on behalf of all the residents of this fabulous state."
Both Rauh and Demers said they were particularly proud to be voting for Obama after the compassion he showed in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., school shootings.
Demers, who served as co-chairman of Obama’s 2008 New Hampshire campaign, described meeting Obama for the first time in December 2006. Obama came to New Hampshire to help celebrate Democratic victories at the state and federal level, but Demers told himself that day that it was too early to commit to a potential presidential candidate.
"The next day, when we took him back to the airport, I broke my promise. I was so impressed with this man, I remember in the car saying to him, ‘I don’t know what your plans are but if you decide to run for president, I’m going to support you,"’ he said. "I’ve never had a regret since."
Though New Hampshire has had just four electoral college votes since 1884, the number had risen from the original five to as high as eight. That first vote was a chore, Gardner explained.
The secretary of state had asked sheriffs to collect nominations for electors from each town, which resulted in hundreds of nominations being sent to the Legislature, which took up the matter on Dec 27, 1788, but didn’t pick the five electors until January 7, 1789.
"For the next 10 days they had one heck of a time trying to figure out who the electors would end up being," he said. "It took five roll-call votes over many days."