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Why is New Hampshire the first primary? Here's what to know.

This article was originally published in The Boston Globe.

Who can vote in the New Hampshire primary?

Registered voters who live or attend college in New Hampshire can vote in the New Hampshire primaries. College students may choose to vote in their home state or the state in which they attend school, but may not vote in both states, according to Jeanette Senecal, who serves as the mission impact director for the League of Women Voters, a voter education organization.

How does voting work?

The New Hampshire primary features two elections — one for the Democratic party and one for the Republican party — in which voters determine who they want to represent their political party. Only registered voters may cast ballots in the New Hampshire primary, but voters can register the day of the election.

Voters must cast ballots in the party they are registered for, and voters who are registered as undeclared may vote in either primary. In New Hampshire, roughly 40 percent of voters are registered as undeclared, according to Liz Tentarelli, the president of LWV New Hampshire. Tentarelli said New Hampshire’s undeclared voters are part of the reason the state plays a large role in setting the tone for other primaries and the presidential election.

“That’s really why candidates are trying to appeal in a broad way,” she said. “They’re not just appealing to R or D, they’re trying to capture these undeclared or independent voters.”

Who is on the ballot?

Former president Donald Trump, Florida governor Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, and biotechnology entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy are among the 24 candidates on the Republican ballot for the New Hampshire primary.

Democrats have 21 candidates to choose from, including US Representative Dean Phillips and author and philanthropist Marianne Williamson. Though President Biden’s name is not on the ballot, some voters have initiated a write-in campaign.

Why isn't Biden on the ballot?

Though Biden will run for reelection in 2024, he has not filed in New Hampshire and will enter the race on Feb. 24, 2024, in the South Carolina primary. Biden won New Hampshire in the 2020 election but lost South Carolina that year, and Tentarelli speculated that Biden hoped to shape a new narrative for the upcoming election. The write-in campaign will likely delay the results of this year’s primary as write-in votes must be hand-counted, she added.

What happens after primary election day?

After the ballots are cast and votes are counted, candidates who receive 10 percent or more of the state’s vote will receive delegates based on the percentage of votes they receive, New Hampshire Secretary of State David M. Scanlan said. The delegates will represent candidates at their party’s national convention, where they will vote to decide the party’s national nominee. The 2024 Democratic National Convention will take place in Chicago from Aug. 19 to Aug. 22. The Republican National Convention will be held in Milwaukee from July 15 to July 18.

How much power can one (small) state hold?

Scanlan said New Hampshire is the best location for the nation’s first primary because it is accessible to candidates in size, population, and ability to join the ballot.

“A candidate doesn’t need a lot of money to be able to run a good campaign here. They just have to be willing to walk down any street and meet voters and make their case,” Scanlan said. “There is no other place in the country like that. Anyone who wants to follow their childhood dream of being president can actually follow that in New Hampshire.”

Any US citizen can join the New Hampshire ballot if they complete a brief form and pay a $1,000 filing fee, which can be waived if the candidate gets 10 signatures from each of the state’s 10 counties, according to Scanlan.

The process is so simple that Tentarelli said “anybody who has the desire to put ‘I ran for president,’ on their tombstone can file in New Hampshire.”

Tentarelli said Granite Staters are able to really get to know their candidates — and with a state so small, they expect to.

“In the rest of the world, people are quite willing to watch candidates on TV,” she said. “Here, we want to be up close and personal.”

One hundred years of history

New Hampshire hosted its first presidential primary in 1916 and has kicked off presidential primary election cycles since 1920.

Scanlan said New Hampshire’s state constitution reflects a “general mistrust of government” and spread political power wide across the population to protect against corruption. The result was a state in which each citizen had relatively easy access to politics that continues today.

Over the past century, New Hampshire established itself as the host of the first-of-the-nation primary through underdogs, upsets, and a consistently high voter turnout — in a record-setting 2020 primary, nearly 30 percent of registered voters cast ballots.

Dubbed a “purple state” due to its high percentage of undeclared voters, advocates say that, since New Hampshire can lean in either political direction, it provides even footing to launch an election season.

Should New Hampshire still hold the first primary?

Broad trends show that presidential candidates now focus more on virtual appearances than in-person ones, decreasing the significance of New Hampshire’s accessibility. Some advocates have urged voting committees to cycle which state hosts the first primary, while others have posed alternatives such as regional primary elections.

This election cycle, the Democratic National Committee pushed for South Carolina to host the first-in-the-nation primary, but New Hampshire refused to concede its spot.

Senecal said that while New Hampshire is not demographically representative of the United States — the state is about 89 percent white, compared to the nation’s 59 percent — it is likely the state in which voters can best get to know candidates.

“The interesting thing about New Hampshire is that because the state is small, candidates can meet basically every voter in the state if they choose to,” Senecal said. “People can really get to meet the candidates if that’s something a candidate wants to do.”

Senecal said it is important for elected politicians to accurately represent those who vote for them, but acknowledged that as a democratic republic, it is impossible for officials to completely accurately reflect the US demographic makeup.

Scanlan said New Hampshire is the best candidate to host the first primary elections each year because of voters’ access to candidates.

“There is no state that somebody can claim truly represents the makeup of America and there is no state that’s more American than any other state,” he said. “We’re all in this together.”

Tentarelli added that many New Hampshire residents feel sentimental about casting the first ballots in the nation.

“The circus comes to town every four years and we would miss it if it didn’t come,” she said.