Over the years, Dartmouth has played a unique role in primary
Students and Dartmouth community members will flock to the polls today, hoping to play their part in what is shaping up to be a historic presidential primary. While the College’s role in the New Hampshire primary varies from past years, the unique circumstances surrounding the primary and role of students in Democratic politics makes this year’s primary particularly consequential. This year’s primary comes with particular weight following a failed presidential impeachment trial, a closely watched and contested caucuses, and the confusion surrounding New Hampshire House Bill 1264.
That 2018 law — which altered the definition of “residence” — has added to the historic precedence of this primary election by muddling the terms upon which students can register to vote in the state. The specific impacts of the law still appear to be unknown.
Dartmouth College Democrats executive director Michael Parsons ’20 spoke about the role of the new voting law in the upcoming primary election.
“It is tough to say exactly how it has affected voting because the secretary of state’s office refuses to comment and offer an explanation of the effects of the bill,” Parsons said. “It really only changes one or two words, but this bill was designed to create mass confusion and mass misinformation about a student’s right to vote in New Hampshire.”
Parsons said that while the bill does not actually change the ability of students to vote, it may deter students from voting.
“In a way, it has been somewhat successful, and that’s what we need to push back against, because students must retain the right to vote in New Hampshire,” Parsons said. “If a student has a midterm the next day, they aren’t going to spend time trying to figure out how to vote.”
Furthermore, the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 3 may have heightened the stakes and pressure of this year’s primary. Due to inconsistencies in voting data, Iowa’s official results were released days past the conclusion of the caucuses. Campaign staff and Democratic Party officials have questioned the robustness of the state’s caucus results.
Robert Coates, assistant director of the Rockefeller Center, said that events surrounding the Iowa caucuses may increase the importance of New Hampshire’s election.
“There was no real political bounce, because it was so muddled,” Coates said. “New Hampshire might have an outsized role.”
Parsons also spoke to the importance of student participation in the primary.
“This primary is rather important given the circumstances of HB 1264, and the mystery surrounding those voting bills,” Parsons said. “Dartmouth students play a critical role.”
Holly Shulman, senior communications advisor of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, concurred with Parsons, noting that students will play a major role in this year’s primary.
“Students across the state are doing a lot, because they know how much is at stake in this current election from climate change, to making health care more affordable, to protecting a woman’s right to choose,” Shulman said.
Shulman added that despite recently changed voting laws, she is still hopeful that young people will show up to vote.
“We hope that young people will get the information they need and get out to vote,” Shulman said.
In addition to their key role in state politics, Dartmouth students have a unique ability to experience politics up-close, according to Coates.
Between multiple candidate visits, debates that have historically occurred on campus, and the ease with which students can access campaign organizations in the area, Coates said that there is a wealth of political experience and activism to be gained.
“Dartmouth students have an opportunity to spectate or participate, and I think that they do both,” Coates said.
Because of the structure of Dartmouth’s term system and the political importance of the Upper Valley area, Coates said that students can gain hands-on skills with local organizers.
“Students are often involved directly in the field organizations in New Hampshire, especially during their leave terms,” Coates said.
Coates added that the state’s precedence in the political arena only adds to the credentials of students who participate in local campaign work.
“New Hampshire is unique in its intensity, breadth and depth,” Coates said. “Given the small state size, there is an extra intensity to the political infrastructure, and campaigns are quite available and always looking for volunteers. They always need a ground campaign, like get out the vote, which requires young, energetic volunteers.”
While Dartmouth arguably has had an outsized role in the primary process, a most notable difference from past years is the lack of a televised debate or town hall in Hanover. In 2007, the College partnered with MSNBC, New England Cable News, the Democratic National Committee and the New Hampshire Democratic Party to host a Democratic presidential candidates debate in Spaulding Auditorium. In 2011, the College hosted a Republican presidential debate with Bloomberg TV and the Washington Post, and in 2016, the Tuck School of Business and the Rockefeller Center hosted the America’s Economic Future forum series which featured a variety of candidates including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The College also played host to a broadcast of Morning Joe that year, and multiple candidates visited Hanover prior to the primary.
But despite the lack of major televised events, every major candidate has hosted an event in Hanover — some on multiple occasions.