After the Iowa Caucus Meltdown, New Hampshire Says It’s Ready

Election administrators in New Hampshire say they’re confident that the state’s Democratic primary will not be a repeat of this week’s Iowa caucus, which has been beset by tech issues and reporting delays. As of Thursday morning, the results still weren’t entirely reported, and the race was too close to declare a winner. “We fully expect that the results reported at the end of the night will be accurate, and the candidates will know who won the primary on time,” said New Hampshire deputy secretary of state David Scanlan.

Of course, there are key differences between the two states. Where Iowa does a caucus—meaning people hang out in person in school gyms and VFW halls for hours, declaring their allegiances and filling out complicated forms recording three rounds of vote tallies—the New Hampshire primary is much more like a straightforward election, run not by the parties but by the state government. More to the point, New Hampshire isn’t introducing an untested mobile app to the process, as the Iowa Democrats did this year to report the results. New Hampshire’s election administrators are proudly old school, continuing to use old-fashioned paper ballots and decades-old optical scanners that, Scanlan said, have had their modems and external ports disabled. As Secretary of State Bill Gardner—a Republican who, incredibly, has been in his position since 1976—likes to brag, “You can’t hack a pencil.”

But you don’t need a hack to sow chaos. The Iowa story wasn’t just about failed technology. It was about online disinformation and the way it feeds on irregularities both real and imagined. False claims about Iowa voters were going viral on social media even before the app havoc, and the reporting snafus inspired tweets from the left and the right about the vote being “rigged.”

The New Hampshire Democrats are on the alert, according to spokesperson Holly Shulman. The state party has taken several steps to get in front of disinformation, including recently publishing a document titled “How to Spot Disinformation Online—and What to Do About It.” That guide, aimed primarily at the more than a thousand local party delegates around the state, plus elected officials and activists, gives readers instructions for what to do if they come across fake accounts—flag it to the relevant platform and email the state party digital director—and advice for how to detect false memes and bot activity.

Plus, Shulman told me, many local Democratic Party chapters have “a designated person who’s monitoring local politics online, including looking for disinformation and misinformation.” She pointed out that New Hampshire is a small state with an unusually high number of elected officials: Its legislature has 424 members for a population of around 1.4 million. California, by contrast, has 120 members representing a population of 40 million. Perhaps as a result, political news—including of the shady variety—comes to the attention of party leaders quickly.

New Hampshire’s Democrats have already passed at least one disinformation warm-up test. It started last week, with a new Twitter account for a gubernatorial candidate. Nice fonts. Muted red, white, and blue color scheme. Outline of the Granite State. But why would anyone running to be governor of New Hampshire pick the slogan “For Himself”?

Well, because it was a fake account. If you thought @Feltes2020 was the handle of Dan Feltes, the majority leader of the New Hampshire state senate and Democratic candidate for governor, you would have been mistaken. In fact, it was created by the state Republican Party, as The Wall Street Journal first reported­. If you clicked the link to Feltes2020.com, you’d end up on an anti-Feltes attack page. (Candidates out there, seriously, get on top of those domain purchases!)

State Democrats were ready. Within minutes of the account going live, Shulman said, the party had received emails flagging it from supporters around the state. They reported it to Twitter, which promptly took the account down.

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