We all know that President Obama won his party's primary in New Hampshire. What you may not know is that Obama only won 79.5% of the vote. Second place in the New Hampshire Democratic primary went to Ron Paul, with 3.7%, Mitt Romney was third with 2.9% of the vote, and Jon Huntsman was fourth with 2.0%. Yes, you heard me right, Ron Paul came in second in the New Hampshire Democratic primary.
How can this happen? New Hampshire allows registered independents to choose which party's primary they want to vote in. The catch is that when they select a party primary to vote in, they change their registration to that party. If they want to be an independent with the option of exercising a similar choice in future primary elections, they must change their party registration back to independent. Some people forget to change their registration back to independent, and when they show up to vote find that they must vote in the primary of the party they are registered with.
In 2008, quite a few independents chose to vote in the Democratic primary and apparently forgot to change their registration by 2012. Still wanting to express their preference in the only meaningful contest, these persons decided to cast a write-in vote for their preferred Republican candidate, even though their vote would not be counted towards the outcome.
Now, for the most part this is merely a fun oddity, but it actually matters to the ordering of the official fourth and fifth place finishers in the Republican primary. Newt Gingrich officially came in fourth with 23,421 votes and Rick Santorum came in fifth with 23,405 votes. However, Santorum received 303 votes in the Democratic primary and Gingrich received 276. When these uncounted votes are factored in, Santorum beat Gingrich by a nose, 23,708 to 23,697 votes.
Meaningful? Perhaps. The post-New Hampshire narrative might have been different if Santorum was perceived to have beaten Gingrich -- there might have been added pressure for Gingrich to drop out. In some ways, you have to feel sorry for Santorum. Not only did he really come in fourth in New Hampshire, he also likely beat Romney in Iowa due to a miscount of votes.