A political revolution topped off with DIY photo shoots and free tacos — Keene State College students made the most of what was, for many, their first presidential election.
For others, Tuesday’s primary was exciting in its own right.
The college sits in Keene’s Ward 1, so students living in campus dorms reported to the Blastos Room in the city-owned complex on Marlboro Street (next to Keene Ice) to cast their ballots.
City Councilor Randy L. Filiault volunteered at the ward’s polling place for part of the afternoon.
“I’ve been here a couple hours, and Keene State students are dominating this ward,” he said. If pressed to put a number on it, he said he’d guess 90 percent of voters who walked through the doors were students.
It’s good news, Filiault said, because hopefully this will be the first of many elections for them.
A few students had to hide their pride in the polling place, unaware of the rules against wearing campaign paraphernalia. Once they stepped outside, though, many eagerly showed off their Bernie buttons and T-shirts when asked who’d earned their vote.
The overwhelming majority who spoke to a reporter Tuesday afternoon supported U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and nearly all of those who could vote in 2016 said they’d backed him then, too.
Sanders, 78, won about 34 percent of the vote across Keene’s five wards Tuesday, with former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg trailing with 21 percent. Ward 1 gave Sanders his largest victory in the city, though, with 45 percent, leaving Buttigieg in the dust by almost 30 points.
Statewide, Sanders tallied the most votes, with Buttigieg less than two points behind, as of early Wednesday morning, when 91 percent of precincts had reported results.
Corinne O’Flaherty was a Sanders supporter in the last election, and she’s volunteered locally with Students for Bernie for the past two semesters. Coming from Sanders’ mayoral stomping grounds of Burlington, Vt., O’Flaherty said he “transformed that city,” and she believes he can do the same for the country.
Jennifer Mejia, a junior, and sophomore Genesis Rivas said they were excited to vote for Sanders in their first presidential election. Neither worried about his age or health negatively affecting his chances of getting elected or his ability to serve as president. Mejia said she considered it, “but it still didn’t stop me, because if someone’s gonna be good at what they’re doing and I believe they can get America somewhere … if he can do the job, why wouldn’t I [vote for him]?”
Mejia and other students said they appreciate the senator’s discussion of issues like the high cost of higher education, and though they aren’t convinced he’ll succeed in making public college tuition- and debt-free, they argued his bold ideas have the power to move the needle over time.
Whomever their choice, students overall seemed to be concerned more with voting their values than the most “electable” candidate. Far removed from pollsters and cable news contributors, Keene’s college students looked delighted as they cast their ballots, waiting for their friends to take group photos in the lobby.
The nation turned its attention to New Hampshire and its student voters after bills passed by the Legislature in the past couple of years were accused of trying to restrict young people from casting their ballots. The American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire and the N.H. Democratic Party have sued the state over a law that requires students who vote with an out-of-state ID to then get a new driver’s license and car registration in the Granite State within 60 days.
Students didn’t express confusion Tuesday over their residency affecting whether or not they could vote, and poll workers in the ward said they hadn’t heard any concerns about it.
Around 4:30 p.m., Ward 1 Moderator Colin “Bob” Lyle said the day had been relatively slow but was starting to pick up the pace. He said the determining factor would be the students, who poured in from vans that were shuttling them from the campus just over a mile away.
Because so many register the day of the primary, he noted, this ward is one of the toughest for volunteers and a few staff members, who he quipped certainly don’t do it for the money.
“It’s really a matter of people want to help out with elections,” Lyle said.
Ward 1 added the most new voters Tuesday with 501, which accounts for nearly 12 percent of the precinct’s new total of 4,354 registered voters.
Same-day registrants cast 37 percent of the ballots in Ward 1. The next closest showing was Ward 5 (which includes off-campus student housing) with 341 new voters casting 17 percent of its ballots.
To help mitigate the flood of bright-eyed voters-to-be, smiling greeters stood at the interior entrance to the Blastos Room and proactively asked questions to offer directions. Those who needed to register or change their address were ushered to a long table with eight or nine poll workers who processed papers as fast as they could. Each time another shuttle emptied its cargo, the long table filled up again — as did a section of overflow seating — and a line formed behind the checklist supervisor.
In its current form, the shuttle service is new for a presidential primary, according to Mark Gempler, who works in Keene State’s Office of Ceremonies and Events. He’s also on the steering committee of the KSC American Democracy Project, and he’s the coordinator of KSC Votes, the coalition that organizes the shuttle service.
In the past, Gempler said, there were multiple, disjointed ventures to help students get to the polls, from community members volunteering to use their personal vehicles to every political campaign begging to participate.
“And we said ‘No, this is Keene State’s responsibility,’ ” he said.
Gempler began coordinating with students, faculty, staff, campaign personnel, activists and community members to create KSC Votes, which concentrated the scattered efforts to offer an efficient shuttle service not affiliated with any one political group or organization. The group rented five vans from a local business for the 2018 midterm election and shuttled about 300 students.
He said there were more than 400 riders Tuesday, and while nearly all of them traveled to Ward 1, the vans took students to any Keene ward in which they were registered. Aside from the convenience of the ride, he argued that it also made voting a social experience to get excited about, rather than a chore to do alone between classes.
Back on campus, he said KSC Votes set up a festive atmosphere to celebrate the occasion. A candidate fair inside the student center featured campaign representatives and literature, and a truck near the shuttle pickup offered free tacos to passersby, regardless of whether they voted.
“We laugh a lot about it: No quid pro quo!” he chuckled.
From sending volunteers to the wards to setting up transport and giving guidance leading up to the elections, Gempler said the goal of KSC Votes is to rise above politics and to instead raise awareness about the process to encourage participation.
“That’s the kind of commonality that brings us together.”
After this article went to press, the city released revised figures for the number of registered voters in each ward. This article has been updated with the correct figure for Ward 1.
A Swanzey man was arrested by Keene police Tuesday afternoon, following an armed robbery at a downtown business.
Joshua Drinnon, 26, allegedly stole an undisclosed amount of money from Synergy on Main Street around 1:10 p.m., according to a news release from Keene police.
Drinnon was also charged with burglary, accused of stealing a safe containing several guns from a Concord Road resident’s home, according to Keene police Lt. Steven Tenney. The burglary was reported Sunday but the resident believed the incident occurred last week.
The suspect, later identified as Drinnon, was arrested at the Keene Inn on West Street, said manager Dan Dempsey, who said he was able to delay the man until police arrived. Police say Drinnon was arrested without incident at about 3 p.m.
Dempsey said Drinnon came to the front office and he recognized the man from photos posted online.
Drinnon — who Dempsey said came from the wooded area behind the motel — wanted to rent a room, but didn’t have enough cash on him.
“He wanted to use a phone because he didn’t have enough cash to rent a room, so my wife called the police and I went out back to get my phone,” he said Tuesday afternoon.
Dempsey said he took his time getting the phone for Drinnon, to give ample time for police to arrive.
“By the time I got back out [front] there were about 20 police cars here,” Dempsey said.
Police said they were drafting an arrest warrant for Drinnon in the burglary case when the armed robbery was reported Tuesday. While investigating, they determined Drinnon was a suspect in the robbery, too, according to the release.
N.H. School Administrative Unit 29’s Superintendent Robert Malay said Keene High School maintained a secure campus — meaning entry to the building was not accessible — but let students out at their regular time.
The district also issued an automated message to parents about the incident.
City Hall locked their exterior doors for about an hour while police searched Main Street, City Manager Elizabeth Dragon said.
Other businesses that surround Synergy were unaware of the situation when asked by a reporter.
Drinnon is being held pending his scheduled arraignment on charges of armed robbery and burglary on Wednesday in Cheshire County Superior Court.
Anyone with further information is encouraged to call the Keene Police Department at 603-357-9820, and ask to speak to Detective Andrew Lippincott, or submit tips anonymously at www.ci.keene.nh.us/departments/police/anonymous-crime-tips.
Susan Holland’s face was frozen in a scowl as she walked toward the exit of the Harrisville Town Offices Tuesday, a scowl that seemingly defined her mood amid the midday fog that hugged the building.
“It feels different,” she said of voting in the 2020 edition of the N.H. Primary. “I’m scared. I’m deeply concerned about the state of our country. I’m about to turn 80 and I’ve never seen anything like this.”
She wasn’t alone. Many Democratic voters said fear accompanied them to the polls Tuesday, a fear that President Donald Trump will be re-elected and the country will never be the same. Today’s divisiveness, they said, would be exacerbated under four more years of Trump and democracy itself would be at risk.
Uncertainty was another common trait among Democratic voters. Many said they sought a candidate who best-represented their interests yet was strong enough to beat Trump. Many voters said they were undecided on who to back even as they sipped their morning coffee. But when they walked into the polls, mirroring her surge across the state, the name that kept coming up in the Monadnock Region was Amy Klobuchar. Sure enough, she roared to a solid third-place finish after languishing in the middle of the pack in most pre-primary polls.
And so the primary caravan — candidates, supporters, national press and the white-hot spotlight — packed up late Tuesday night and early Wednesday, next stops, Nevada and South Carolina. New Hampshire has again fired the traditional starting gun, and Granite State voters gave Democrats plenty to think about in anointing Bernie Sanders the early frontrunner, while propping up Pete Buttigieg and Klobuchar as candidates to seriously consider. Meanwhile, they turned away from Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren, and culled the field with several candidates dropping out in the last 24 hours.
Michael Bloomberg? We’ll watch that plot line from afar. We get a breather from the persistent knocks on the door, constant phone calls and airways saturated with political ads.
By today, the red, white and blue bunting adorning area town halls will be stored, voting booths folded up, registration tables broken down. Folding chairs stacked tightly against the walls, out of the way, will be unfolded for next month’s town meetings. Or, as Betsey Church, supervisor of the checklist in Nelson said, “Back to the Monday night contra dances.”
It wasn’t difficult to pick up on the pervading gloom among many voters in this year’s primary. Winston Sims of Harrisville has been involved in community service most of his life, from The Community Kitchen of Keene to working internationally as an administrator with the American Friends Service Committee and the International Planned Parenthood Federation. Today, he’s chairman of the Harrisville Conservation Commission.
Sims jokes that a Monadnock Profile written about him by The Sentinel in 2002 helped convince a woman he met on Match.com in 2003 to go out on a date. It went well: Sherry and Winston Sims have been married for 15 years. But Sims stops joking when talking about the presidential election.
“I think the whole state of democracy is at stake,” he said. “I think it’s undergone more erosion in the last three years than any time in our history. It’s going to take a lot to recoup what has already eroded.”
Sims said the crowded Democratic field didn’t bother him; on the contrary, it gives voters options. “I think there are so many candidates, and such worthy candidates, it’s almost a sense of relief. It’s not as if you have to choose between the devil and the deep, blue sea.”
Ted and Wendy Pearre of Harrisville are retired school administrators who worked in West Newton, Mass. Ted Pearre said this year’s primary felt different for a number of reasons, including media saturation. A heavy media presence has always been a part of the primary, he said, yet the omnipresence of social media clouds facts from fiction and gives voters challenges they’re unsure how to navigate.
“It feels different in the urgent call to get out the vote,” said Pearre, adding that voters have been “bombarded” with candidate ads and “bludgeoned” by their causes such as climate change and health care. Thus, even though he’s glad the primary caravan is moving on, the messaging is not leaving social media. It’ll be constant from now until November, he says.
“Is it a bad thing?” he repeats. “Yes and no. Issues are important and that’s good. It’s bad because we are being twisted and manipulated by social media posts. … Really, we are gullible. We’re looking to find people we agree with on issues that are not factually based, at which point we become acolytes.”
Maureen Meyer of Stoddard, a librarian at the Fuller School in Keene, also said it does not feel like a normal primary, that the stakes are higher. “I feel more scared because you have no idea what other people are liking and thinking. You have no control,” she says. At school, staff don’t discuss politics at all, and it didn’t used to be that way. “It’s become so divisive you can’t talk openly these days,” Meyer said. “And that’s sad.”
Like many voters, she said she didn’t decide who to vote for basically until she pulled into the snow-covered Stoddard Town Hall parking lot. She went with Klobuchar.
Nelson Selectman Chairman David Upton said he waited later than that, making up his mind as he walked from the registration table to the voting booth. “This one’s been really tough because there are many good candidates out there,” Upton said. It was an ad he saw over the weekend that solidified his choice, “that little click at the end,” though he wasn’t revealing his choice.
Not all was gloomy. Ralph and Dianna Castor of Nelson said they were fired up about voting, though not about the divisiveness in the country. He said he’d love to see all members of Congress subject to term limits, no different than the president. “All I hope is that everything goes smoothly and nothing happens,” he said of the primary.
Bonnie Willette and Alison Weber of Harrisville were also upbeat. “You finally have a voice other than just listening to the blah, blah, blah,” Willette said. Weber added, “I won’t miss the circus. It will be a quiet phone.”