New Hampshire shows off desk of man who proposed primary

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CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Candidates who next week start signing up for the New Hampshire primary can do so at the desk of the man who started it all a century ago.

In 1913, Rep. Stephen Bullock traveled by horse and buggy from his Richmond farm to Concord to propose a bill creating the primary. The Legislature passed it that spring, and after some tweaking of the law two years later the first presidential primary was a held in March 1916.

On Thursday, Bullock’s desk, adorned with his straw hat, pipe and kerosene lamp, was unveiled at the secretary of state’s office, where candidates sign paperwork and pay $1,000 to get on the ballot. It was given to the state by Bullock’s great-granddaughter to honor a man who received no recognition for his place in political history during his lifetime. She knew nothing of his role until the 1990s when Secretary of State Bill Gardner contacted another relative while researching his book about the primary.

“I was 9 years old when Grampa Bullock died, so I do remember him, but we never knew anything about all this with the presidential legislation,” said Sybil Dupuis, of Wells, Maine.

Thursday’s gathering also included the grandson of former President Grover Cleveland. George Cleveland showed off the ballot boxes New Hampshire distributed for the 1892 election his grandfather won. The ballot boxes, which originally contained mechanism to count each ballot as it was fed into the machine, are still in use by dozens of towns, Gardner said.

“It’s so nice to be reunited with my friend — this ballot box,” said Cleveland, who served as town moderator in Tamworth for nearly 30 years. He recalled taking the job and quickly realizing that the town’s older election officials were set in their ways.

“The supervisors of the checklist and the ballot clerks had a definite way of how things were going to be done, and no young whipper-snapper was going to be telling them any different,” he said. “We did things a little differently in Tamworth because that’s the way it had always been done, and in New Hampshire, that’s law.”

The artifact display was the latest in a series of events commemorating the primary’s centennial. Though the first primary was held in 1916, it wasn’t until 1952 that voters cast ballots for candidates directly instead of choosing delegates. Since then it has snowballed, with much media attention and maneuvering to remain ahead of other states. This year’s filing period runs Nov. 4-20, though candidates already have been campaigning for months and in some cases, years.

Edith Atkins, Bullock’s granddaughter and Dupuis’ aunt, told The Associated Press in 2000 that her grandfather likely would be amazed by what the primary has become.

“I think he would be very proud of his accomplishments,” said Atkins, who died in 2003. “But I’m sure at the time he did it, he never dreamed of the outcome of all this.”

— Written by Holly Ramer


This story has been corrected to show 2016 is the 100th anniversary of the primary, not the 100th primary.

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