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Ex-governors Lynch, Merrill speak up for secretary of state

December 3, 2018

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A pair of former governors from opposing parties joined other supporters of Secretary of State Bill Gardner to argue that he deserves another term.

Republican Steve Merrill and Democrat John Lynch are among five former governors who are backing Gardner, who is seeking a 22nd term but faces strong opposition from fellow Democrat and former gubernatorial candidate Colin Van Ostern. Gardner has faced criticism for backing Republican-led efforts to tighten voter registration rules and for serving on President Donald Trump’s commission on voter fraud, but his supporters argue he has served the state fairly and well.

“This cannot become a partisan office,” said Lynch, who left office in 2013 after four terms.

Merrill, who served two terms in the 1990s, said the secretary of state shouldn’t be beholden to political interests, both in overseeing elections at the state level and protecting New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary.

“To keep the New Hampshire primary, we need the office of the secretary of state to be above reproach, above question,” he said. “The secretary of state must be bipartisan, in fact, nonpartisan.”

Van Ostern has argued that Gardner has politicized the office by backing legislation he views as voter suppression, and he promises to fiercely defend New Hampshire’s position in the presidential nominating calendar. Running on a platform of modernizing the office and holding it accountable, he has spent recent days making his case to lawmakers in one-on-one meetings.

“This race is not about endorsements from the past, it’s about ideas for the future, and that’s what I consistently hear from lawmakers of both parties,” he said.

Democrats, who know control both the House and Senate, backed Van Ostern by an overwhelming margin in a non-binding caucus vote earlier this month. The full 424-member Legislature will pick a winner on Wednesday.

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