On Thursday, Oct. 6, former New Hampshire secretary of state Bill Gardner delivered a timely talk at the Rockefeller Center for Public Policy titled "Trusting Our Elections: Making Democracy Work Amid Election Deniers, Misinformation, and Stolen Election Conspiracies." Gardner engaged with students and community members about topics including student voting, his views on accusations of voter fraud, and New Hampshire residents' high rate of confidence in their elections.
"The one act that most people have in their life to protect their country and a free society is voting," Gardner said, connecting the importance of voting in American society to the strong feelings surrounding elections. "And if they lose that, what is there left for them?"
Government professor Russell Muirhead, who is also a state representative for Hanover and Lyme, introduced the longtime public servant, noting that Gardner was the longest-ever serving secretary of state when he retired earlier this year.
He was also the youngest secretary of state ever when he took on the job in 1976. After watching high school classmates ship off to Vietnam, the political turmoil of the late 1960s, and a U.S. Senate race in New Hampshire decided by just two votes, Gardner said he was part of a surge of young people entering politics that eventually launched him into the secretary of state position.
"For the four years I was in college, I couldn't vote, because you had to be 21," Gardner said. He emphasized that he believes college students should be able to vote where they choose: "Only vote once, and you should vote where you feel is your home."
Gardner spoke urgently about the need to shore up public trust in elections, noting that when losers of elections no longer trust the results "we lose our country."
"When you vote, the person in front of you can be the wrestling champ or the beauty queen or a millionaire or the smartest, strongest professional sports player," he said of the franchise. "... and their vote means no more than your vote."
He ticked off a list of things that he believes helps New Hampshire voters trust their elections — according to polls, the vast majority of residents believe their ballots are counted accurately — including using paper ballots, same-day registration, local administration and in-person voting except in narrow circumstances.
The event, part of the Perkins Bass Distinguished Lecture series, also marked Gardner's second visit to Dartmouth in 2022. At his first in April, titled "The Administration of Elections and their Impact on American Democracy," Gardner covered his own election reforms in the 1970s and defended the state's "First in the Nation" presidential primary.
Ahead of the November midterm elections, students and community members will have another opportunity to engage on issues related to elections: On Oct. 24, CNN journalist Harry Enten '11 will discuss the upcoming elections and their impact on 2024 at an event hosted by government professor Dean Lacy.