Bill Gardner, New Hampshire's Secretary of State, Leaving Office Held Since 1976 Later This Week

Bill Gardner, who has been New Hampshire's Secretary of State for nearly 46 years, announced Monday he would step down from the position and begin retirement this week.

He added that David Scanlan, the state's deputy secretary of state, would take over from him.

Gardner was first elected as Secretary of State in 1976. In 2020, he was re-elected to his 23rd term (they are two years each) in the position. Besides a 2018 election where he narrowly won against opponent Colin Van Ostern by just four votes, he won every election over the past four decades with minimal competition, The Associated Press reported.

The 73-year-old has long been a proponent of maintaining New Hampshire's status as the "first in the nation" presidential primary. State law requires the primary election to be held at least a week before other states and allows the secretary of state to set the election date.

According to WCAX, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu commended Gardner for his work to keep the state as the first to hold presidential primaries.

"For decades, Bill Gardner has fiercely protected New Hampshire's First in the Nation presidential primary and overseen our elections that are truly a point of pride for our state - always open, fair, accessible, and accurate," Sununu said in a statement. "We will miss Bill and his vast institutional knowledge of New Hampshire people, politics, and government. Here's to a well-deserved retirement."

New Hampshire, Bill Gardner
New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner announced he would retire later this week after nearly 46 years in the position. Above, Gardner at the State House in Concord, New Hampshire. Photo by Orjan F. Ellingvag/Corbis via Getty Images

In 2020, New Hampshire's Feb. 11 presidential primary race was under extra scrutiny after the leadoff Iowa caucuses descended into chaos, with technical problems and results that remained muddied for days.

Then came the coronavirus pandemic, which created challenges for municipal elections and traditional Town Meetings in March, followed by the September state primary and November general election. The state temporarily expanded eligibility for absentee voting for those concerned about the pandemic, and extensive safety measures were in place at the polls. All of that influenced his decision to run again in 2020, Gardner said.

Gardner, a Democrat, has not traditionally accepted campaign donations.

"That to me is extremely important in protecting the nonpartisian tradition of this office," he said at the time.

But in recent years, Gardner came under fire from Democrats for his participation in former President Donald Trump's commission on voter fraud and for backing GOP legislation to tighten voter registration rules. That created an opening for Van Ostern, who campaigned for months on a platform of modernizing the office, holding it accountable and resisting what he viewed as voter suppression measures.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.