LACONIA — Next Tuesday, Sept. 10, the city will spend $10,000 and 48 paid volunteers will spend 10 hours at the polls at the primary election, after which one of the three candidates for mayor and for city councilor in Ward 2 will be eliminated from the general election ballot in November.
Laconia, Manchester and Keene, are the only cities among the 13 in the state that hold primary elections, which elsewhere were abandoned when partisan elections were replaced by non-partisan elections.
In Manchester, where a primary election costs $25,000 and requires 156 poll officials, the City Charter stipulates that if there are no more than four candidates for at-large alderman, the city clerk shall declare a primary election unnecessary and the candidates nominated in those wards where there are no more than two candidates for alderman. Of course, if there are more than two candidates for mayor on the primary ballot, the polls would be open in all 12 wards.
In Keene, the charter includes a similar provision. If there are no more than two candidates in the election for mayor and ward councilor as well as no more than 10 candidates for at-large councilors, the clerk shall declare the primary election unnecessary and the candidates nominated.
City Manager Scott Myers said yesterday that he has discussed the need for primary elections with City Clerk Mary Reynolds as well as with several city councilors, who he said expressed "mixed feelings. Some see the cost savings," he continued, "while others see the downside that without a primary a mayor or councilor could be elected without winning a majority."
In Laconia, in the eight primary elections between 1997 and 2011 voter turnout has averaged nine-percent. In 2001, when turnout reached a high of 18-percent there were four candidates for mayor, along with five council candidates in Ward 3, three in Wards 4 and 5 and two in Ward 6. In three of the past eight elections — in 2003, 2009 and 2011 — primary elections were held even though there were not more than two candidates for either mayor or any of the six council seats. In 2011, only 259 of 8,422, or 3percent of registered voters went to the polls, just 21 of them in Ward 2 and another 22 in Ward 5, at a cost to the city of approximately $39 a vote.
For Tony Felch, who is challenging longtime incumbent Councilor Arman Bolduc in Ward 6, has made the future of the primary elections a theme of his campaign. "It's a waste of time and money, of everything," he said, adding that if he is successful he will urge the council to eliminate the primary.