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For canvassers, New Hampshire primary bears deeper connection with democracy

NASHUA, N.H. — PJ Lutz, a fifth grader, said he wants to be the governor of Massachusetts. Although he’s unsure about what his future policies would be, Lutz is testing the waters at the New Hampshire primary election.

Just an hour before polls closed, the 10-year-old stood beside his mother outside Bicentennial Elementary School in Nashua. They both held signs that read, “Write-in Joe Biden.”

Although standing outside polling locations in the cold is far from glamorous, canvassers from across the country headed to New Hampshire for this year’s first-in-the-nation primary to make a stand for their chosen candidates on Tuesday.

PJ and Megan Lutz canvas for President Biden outside a polling center at the Bicentennial Elementary School in Nashua, New Hampshire on Tuesday. Biden supporters launched the successful write-in campaign as a result of the President’s name not appearing on the New Hampshire Democratic primary ballot. CLARE ONG/ DFP PHOTOGRAPHER

New Hampshire state Rep. Latha Mangipudi, a Democrat who is in her sixth consecutive term in the state legislature, arrived at Bicentennial Elementary — her ward’s polling station — at 6:00 a.m. on the morning of the primary. As a public official, she said she feels it’s important to demonstrate to her constituents the importance of voting to maintain democracy.

“Our goal was to make sure that we send a strong message to the rest of the country saying there’s support [for Biden],” said Mangipudi, who graduated from Boston University’s Neuroscience program in 1992.

Because President Joe Biden did not appear on the ballot, his supporters advocated a write-in campaign at the New Hampshire primary to endorse his candidacy.

“This is actually more important than a lot of sign-holding campaigns because … usually people come in, they know what their options are, and the sign might not make that big of a difference,” Meg Lutz, 44, said. “But I definitely think there [are] people that might not be aware of the option to write in for Biden, so I think holding signs is really important.”

Voting in the primary presidential election plays an especially vital role in New Hampshire, whose first-in-the-nation primary catapults the small state’s political landscape to national attention every four years, Mangipudi said.

New Hampshire’s constitution uniquely mandates that the state must hold the country’s first presidential primary election — a law instituted in 1975, though the state has claimed the first primary since 1920.

Avinder Chawla, 59, flew from Irvine, California to advocate for Biden in Nashua. Chawla said the write-in campaign “tells the whole world that there are many people who are for Joe Biden,” publicity that he said he hopes will lend Biden traction in coming elections.

“I think it’ll work,” PJ Lutz said of the write-in campaign.

An hour later, the Democratic primary was called for Biden. As of midnight, his write-in ballots amassed 35.7% of the vote, with 36.8% of votes still unprocessed, according to Politico.

Biden is not the only candidate whose supporters stationed themselves outside the polls.

Manchester native Pierre Dupont, 68, canvassed for Donald Trump in 2016, Mitt Romney in 2008, and George W. Bush in 2004. This year, although Dupont’s preferred candidate, Republican Ron DeSantis (R-FL), left the presidential race on Jan. 21, Pierre still showed up to the Manchester polls holding a two-by-four stapled with Trump signs.

“I’ve been doing this for 20, 30 years. I always get involved,” Dupont said. “You know, pick someone you like and get involved and hopefully they win.”

Steve Montanez canvases for Democratic presidential candidate Jason Palmer despite saying he is a Trump supporter in actuality. MOLLY POTTER/DFP PHOTOGRAPHER

Trump won the Republican primary, scoring 54.2% of the vote with 82% of votes counted as of midnight, according to CNN. Competitor Nikki Haley (R-SC) had 43.7%.

Some canvassers don’t share Dupont’s passion for the candidates they canvas for — or even vote for them.

Although Steve Montanez, 47, spent much of the day holding a Jason Palmer (D-MD) sign outside a Manchester polling station, he said he “[has] no clue” what Palmer’s policies are.

“I’m being honest, I’m a Trump supporter,” Montanez said.

Montanez found the canvassing job through a temp agency and took the position for the promise of pay.

Kevin Huang, 27, a volunteer for candidate Dean Phillips’ (D-MN) presidential campaign, traveled to Manchester from Boston to show his support for the candidate.

“It’s always good to have more voices in politics,” Huang said. “The purpose of a primary is to have voices of very different constituencies be heard and have the votes counted.”

Another Phillips canvasser, retiree Brendan O’Connor, said it’s important to continue support for a candidate who shares your morals, even if they are not as popular or well known.

Canvassing reminds Americans of their right to vote, Mangipudi said. It can be used as a tool to encourage anyone, regardless of political affiliation, to participate in democracy.

“What is the currency of democracy? Your ability to vote,” Mangipudi said. “That’s by the people, of the people, for the people. How much more Democratic can it be?”

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