For those who hoped New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary would serve as a snapshot of the 2016 election cycle, Tuesday could prove a more literal reward than expected. The Granite State has a new voter ID law this year, and while those who arrive at the polls without the required forms of identification will still be allowed to cast a ballot, they must first sign an affidavit and also let a poll worker take their picture. Ballot-access advocates worry the process could lead to voter intimidation, as well as depress turnout due to longer lines at polling places. According to a Los Angeles Times column by Ari Berman, author of “Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America,” wait times “increased by 50 percent when the [New Hampshire] voter ID law was partially implemented, without the camera requirement, during the 2012 election.”
While the new ID rules are not likely as big a deterrent to participation as the “high barrier” caucus process seen last week in Iowa, the candidates currently enjoying solid leads in New Hampshire surveys — Republican businessman Donald Trump and Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders — are also the ones who have the most to lose if turnout is low.
In the case of this primary, however, the meaning of “lose” is relative. It would be a major upset, indeed, if Trump and Sanders did not finish first in their party’s contests Tuesday. But if their winning margins are substantially smaller than predicted by the polls, it will allow others in the race to declare a kind of victory — much the way Florida Senator Marco Rubio did with his stronger-than-expected third-place finish in Iowa’s Republican caucuses, or the way Bill Clinton dubbed himself “The Comeback Kid” in New Hampshire in 1992, even though he finished eight points behind primary winner Paul Tsongas.
Tsongas was the sitting senator from neighboring Massachusetts in ’92. The big Democratic winner in Iowa that year was Tom Harkin, but because he was that state’s senator, the coverage back then wrote off the contest, and the victory provided no “bump” or momentum for the candidate.