Long lines, new voters overwhelm officials in rural Swanzey, NH

Twenty five minutes before the polls closed in Swanzey, NH, a line of voters still snaked out the door and down the ramp into the 25-degree night, as they waited outside Christian Life Fellowship Church to cast their votes.

Over 5,200 ballots were cast in the rural town with a population of just over 7,000. 305 new voters were registered on Tuesday, many turning up in the last hour the polls were open, causing at least one town official to mutter suspiciously under his breath as he worked.

“I smell a rat,” Assistant Moderator Paul Scheuring said several times, to himself and to anyone nearby.

Swanzey was a solid Trump town in 2016, but all those new voters contributed to a flip this year, with 2,008 votes for former Vice President Joseph Biden, 1,763 for President Donald Trump. 

Scheuring directed a steady stream of voters to remove their ballots from their privacy sleeves and feed them into one of two voting machines. By 7:30 p.m., one machine was overstuffed and started spitting ballots back out, and Scheuring had to open the machine to manually feed in the ballots that just kept coming. 

He and another election worker knelt on the carpeted floor of the church, shaking their heads and exchanging glances with raised eyebrows as they unloaded sheaves of ballots from the voting machine into cardboard boxes.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Scheuring. “I’ve never heard of a whole slew of people coming in at the last minute, and as far as I know, no one else has heard of it, either.”

Scheuring said that anyone who wanted to register to vote was required to show proof of citizenship and proof of residency, and a supervisor was called in for each new voter, to confirm that the registration was legitimate. 

“I may have my conspiracy suspicions, but that’s all they are. I have no evidence to support my suspicions. Even if it was an organized effort, it was on the up and up. I’ve just never heard of such a thing, is all,” Sheuring said.

Scheuring, a long-time Monadnock region radio host, speculated that nearby Keene State College students might be contributing to the new voter boom.

“I don’t know if a bunch of college kids came in and said ‘Let’s crash the election!’ but it’s very, very unusual, to say the least,” Scheuring said. 

Swanzey’s had enough troubles this election season after the Secretary of State’s Office stopped the town from using an unmanned ballot drop box for absentee voters. Town Clerk Ron Fontaine chalked up the snafu to a misunderstanding.

Fontaine had no theories to explain the high turnout and the unprecedented number of new registrations on Tuesday night.

“I’ve been here since 4 a.m.  I just want to go home,” he laughed. 

As the machines whirred, counting ballots, and volunteers began to pack up and leave, one weary voice piped up, “Anyone  want to stay behind and count votes?”

“What does that entail?” another voice asked. 

“Counting,” said the first.

David Berman, the senior pastor who “planted” Christian Life Fellowship Church 25 years ago also expressed amazement at the turnout.

“It just wouldn’t slow down,” Berman said.

Berman said he saw people waiting in line for an hour and a half to get in.

“They were determined to vote,” he said. 

Swanzey voted overwhelmingly for Trump in 2016, and Pastor Berman said that he thought most of his congregation likely voted for Trump this time around.

“I highly doubt anyone in my congregation would vote for anyone but a conservative,” said Berman, one of the few people in the room not wearing a mask. 

Although both parties “spend like drunken sailors,” Berman said, he thinks that Trump has done an excellent job leading the country. He was skeptical at first, and was a staunch supporter of Ben Carson, even flying in to speak at a Carson news conference; but he changed his mind about Trump when he heard him speak. Berman has been pleased with Trump’s efforts to gain energy independence, to ease regulation, and to keep the country out of war. 

Republican Governor Sununu beat Dan Feltes handily for a third term, 2404 to 1295; but the other major races went to democrats. Democrat Senator Jeanne Shaheen won 2200 votes to republican challenger Corky Messner’s 1539; and Democrat Rep. Ann Kuster bested candidate Steve Negron 2059 to 1625. Democrat Sheriff Eli Rivera won a fourth term over trans satanist anarchist GOP challenger Aria DiMezzo, who garnered 579 votes. The republican write-in candidate for sheriff, Earl Nelson, received 665 votes. 

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