LACONIA – Karen Gallagher has held signs at the polls for political candidates before, but the one she held outside the Laconia Middle School on Tuesday undoubtedly struck closer to home than the signs she held in past elections for Donald Trump and Mitt Romney: It touted her husband Brian’s bid for a seat on the Belknap County Commission.
While her husband held a sign outside the Laconia Ward 6 polls at the Leavitt Park Club House for the entire day, Karen Gallagher planned to make the rounds.
“I plan to spend three hours at each place,” she said as a drizzle fell outside the middle school.
The sight of volunteers holding signs outside polling places is as familiar as the red, white and blue drapes that cover most voting booths. The state refers to it as “electioneering.”
While most of those volunteers are motivated by a belief in a candidate, others, like Gallagher, have a little extra incentive.
She wasn’t the only wife backing her husband’s bid for political office Tuesday; in Gilford, Priscilla Bean held a sign for her husband, Harry, and Molly Notkin held a sign endorsing the New Hampshire House candidacy of her husband, Rick. Both candidates were seeking one of four nominations from among a group of seven Republicans.
“Thank you for coming to vote,” Notkin said to people passing within earshot on their way to the polls.
She stood with a small gathering of other Republicans — her husband had just left to grab lunch — and talked about the difference between standing outside the polls in New Hampshire and doing the same thing in Massachusetts, where she lived until a few years ago.
“There was more verbal animosity between the two parties” in Massachusetts, she said, whereas at the polls in Gilford, “Everybody’s being friendly with everybody.”
That’s the way electioneering usually happens on Election Day in New Hampshire, said Ward 6 Moderator Tony Felch.
“They’re usually pretty cordial,” he said, standing outside the polls. “I’ve even seen the different parties holding signs for the other people if they have to go and use the restroom, because they have to be holding their signs. They can’t just set them there.”
There are, after all, rules to this electioneering business at polling places.
As Felch pointed out, signs cannot be unattended, and there must be a zone at least 10 feet wide that is free of electioneering.
But outside that 10-foot zone stood volunteers who were passionate in their support of their candidates.
“I know the candidates and I feel very strongly that they’re good people,” said Glenn Bailey of Milton, who was holding signs in Gilford for a Republican slate of candidates for state representative.
Equally devoted was Mary Ellen Boudman, who stood beneath an umbrella outside Laconia’s Ward 3 and talked at length about her support of Naomi Andrews’ bid to succeed Democratic Rep. Carol Shea-Porter in Congress.
In Ward 6, Al Wylie said he was backing the re-election of Belknap County Commissioner Dave DeVoy, “because I believe in Dave. He’s done a lot. He saves a lot of money for the city. He’s done a tremendous job, in my opinion.”
Gilford resident Lawrence Abilkoff felt equally strong about his candidate, Belknap County Commissioner Hunter Taylor.
“I like what he does,” Abilkoff said. “He’s socially conscious within a framework that says we have limited resources; use them correctly.”
How much good such sign-holding actually does is anybody’s guess.
“I’m not sure that it has a tremendous impact, but you never know what’s in somebody’s mind,” said County Commission candidate Brian Gallagher, explaining that it may show people he met on the campaign trail that he’s sincere about his commitment when they show up to vote.
Just the fact that volunteers are willing to stand out in all kinds of weather in support of a cause resonates with voters like Jean Durfee.
“I don’t care who they’re representing one way or the other,” said the Ward 6 resident. “They’ve got the time and the energy and the initiative to stand here for what they believe in.”
Jane Nault, also of Ward 6, spoke respectfully of the effort put in by the sign-holders: "They’re doing that because they believe in who they’re campaigning for. That’s their right and it’s the American way.”
While the value of standing outside a polling place on Election Day is debatable, most electioneering happens well before Election Day. Ellen Mulligan, who was holding a sign in Gilford in support of her mother, Rosemary Uicher, pointed out what might be this campaign season’s most creative effort to win the hearts of voters:
“She lives next door to the school,” said Mulligan, “and every Saturday, she’s been giving out cookies at the farmers' market that say, “Vote Rosemary.’”