12/05/2018 16:52 EST | Updated 12/05/2018 16:53 EST

Democrats Fall Short Of Ousting New Hampshire Secretary of State

Bill Gardner, who served on Trump’s voter fraud commission, barely hangs on.

Longtime New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner survived a challenge from fellow Democrat Colin Van Ostern. 

Bill Gardner, who has served more than 40 years as New Hampshire’s Secretary of State, won a 22nd term in the office on Wednesday, narrowly surviving a challenge based in part on Gardner’s participation in President Donald Trump’s voter fraud commission and support for measures making it harder for college students to vote. 

New Hampshire’s famously large and independent-minded legislature elects the Secretary of State every two years. Gardner won 209 votes to 205 votes for Colin Van Ostern, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in 2016. While both men are nominally Democrats, Gardner’s participation in the voter fraud commission infuriated many liberals in the state, and a vote of the Democratic caucus earlier this month showed an overwhelming majority of the legislature’s Democratic members backed Van Ostern.

Gardner has become nationally known as a fierce defender of New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary, and his supporters — especially the New Hampshire GOP — argued electing Van Ostern would put the primary at risk. Van Ostern’s backers countered the primary was set by state law.

Gardner’s political troubles began with his service on Trump’s voter fraud commission, which the Democratic National Committee and New Hampshire Sens. Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen called him on to quit. The commission was based on Trump’s false belief he only lost the popular vote in 2016 due to voter fraud. There is no evidence of mass in-person voter fraud in the United States. 

Gardner also supported legislation that would’ve made it harder for college students to vote by forcing them to become permanent residents of New Hampshire before casting their ballots. The law was later struck down in court. 

Republicans, including Gov. Chris Sununu (R), cheered the results. 

The New Hampshire Democratic Party, which officially stayed neutral in the fight, said they hoped Gardner would learn from the challenge. 

“I hope he heard the concerns expressed and views his re-election as an opportunity to both modernize the Secretary of State’s office, bringing more accountability and transparency to our elections, and to fight for all eligible voters’ right to cast a ballot, particularly in the face of efforts to restrict this basic right,” Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley said.