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Biden isn't on the New Hampshire ballot. These voters are writing him in anyway

Signs line a driveway in Concord, N.H., waiting for volunteers to pick them up. President Biden is not on the New Hampshire primary ballot because of a dispute over Democratic Party rule changes.
Jeongyoon Han
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NPR
Signs line a driveway in Concord, N.H., waiting for volunteers to pick them up. President Biden is not on the New Hampshire primary ballot because of a dispute over Democratic Party rule changes.

MANCHESTER, N.H. — It's 8 a.m. on Monday, the day before the first-in-the nation presidential primary in New Hampshire. About 20 volunteers are holding up signs on a street corner, braving temperatures in the teens.

They're part of a campaign urging people to write in President Biden's name on the state's Democratic primary ballot.

While most political attention has been focused on the state's Republican primary, the Democratic race has had some unusual twists.

For one thing, Biden isn't even on the ballot. Biden and the Democratic National Committee decided they wanted to start the primary process this year in South Carolina, so the results in New Hampshire won't even count toward the nomination.

But Democratic volunteers and politicians in New Hampshire have been fighting to ensure Biden wins the primary anyway. There are 21 candidates on the Democratic primary ballot, including Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn., and author Marianne Williamson.

On Jan. 20, Biden supporters in Manchester, N.H., rally to raise awareness about their push to write in Biden on the New Hampshire Democratic primary ballot.
Timothy A. Clary / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
On Jan. 20, Biden supporters in Manchester, N.H., rally to raise awareness about their push to write in Biden on the New Hampshire Democratic primary ballot.

Biden and his campaign have nothing to do with this write-in effort. But because it could affect the political narrative about the president, the write-in effort has attracted the backing of some high-profile Democrats, including Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif.

"I think he [Biden] is gonna win, and I think that's gonna give him a boost of momentum," Khanna said.

Khanna and other Democrats involved are also acutely aware that a disappointing turnout for Biden on primary day could serve as an embarrassment for his reelection campaign.

Stephanie Harris of Claremont, N.H., holds instructions she had made at her local print shop about how to write in Biden's name on New Hampshire's Democratic primary ballot.
/ Stephanie Harris
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Stephanie Harris
Stephanie Harris of Claremont, N.H., holds instructions she had made at her local print shop about how to write in Biden's name on New Hampshire's Democratic primary ballot.

Here's how volunteers have spread the word

Volunteers have come up with their own ideas to help. Stephanie Harris, 77, went to her local print shop to have cards designed and printed with instructions for writing in Biden: Bubble in the circle by the "Write In" option, and write Biden's name.

Harris bought a thousand cards and started mailing them to everyone she knew across the state. Soon enough, she said, they were all gone.

"This is just like old style: paper and mail, and people talking to people and calling each other up," she said. "We're all really just very concerned that democracy is on the line and that every vote at every time right up to November is important."

Harris ran into Prescott Herzog at a state party meeting and showed him the cards. "I emailed her and was like, 'Any chance you can put in another order?'" said Herzog, who studies government and history at Dartmouth College.

Herzog and about 15 members of the College Democrats student group hand-delivered the next order of a thousand cards to dorms on campus.

He said it is disappointing that Biden isn't on the ballot, but he wants to help Biden win the primary to help build momentum for his campaign against former President Donald Trump.

"You know, people across the world and across the country are looking at New Hampshire to see: Are we going to protect our democracy?" Herzog said.

In the final days, disinformation entered the write-in fight

The write-in campaign took a dramatic turn over the weekend when New Hampshire voters started to get phone calls that sounded like they were from Biden.

"Your vote makes a difference in November, not this Tuesday," the voice said.

But that wasn't Biden — it was a voice generated by artificial intelligence that was meant to sound like him, telling people not to vote. Biden's campaign called it disinformation and said the call had been referred to the state's attorney general for investigation.

New Hampshire Democratic activist Kathy Sullivan heads a super PAC that raised $1.5 million to promote the write-in effort. Whoever is behind the call made it seem like it was coming from her.

"My head exploded, and I said I can't believe that some son of a gun is trying to suppress the vote on Tuesday," Sullivan said.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Tamara Keith
Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. In that time, she has chronicled the final years of the Obama administration, covered Hillary Clinton's failed bid for president from start to finish and thrown herself into documenting the Trump administration, from policy made by tweet to the president's COVID diagnosis and the insurrection. In the final year of the Trump administration and the first year of the Biden administration, she focused her reporting on the White House response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jeongyoon Han