Philadelphia drop box

A voter prepares to drop off a ballot at a drop box outside Philadelphia City Hall on May 28.

With the COVID-19 pandemic ongoing, absentee voting and other options to increase social distance between voters and poll workers have been a prime focus this election season. But in the Monadnock Region, several clerks report that a lack of staff is a main barrier to offering absentee ballot drop boxes in their communities.

New Hampshire has allowed voters to list concerns about the novel coronavirus as an acceptable reason for voting absentee this year. Drop boxes provide an option for contact-free delivery, while avoiding the U.S. Postal Service.

But New Hampshire cities and towns may not accept ballots via drop boxes unless they’re supervised by a staff member from their clerk’s office whenever ballots can be submitted to the boxes, according to Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan. And several local clerks say they don’t have the resources to do so.

“Chesterfield does not have a drop box,” Town Clerk Barbara Girs wrote in an email to The Sentinel Tuesday. “My understanding is that in the state of NH a drop box has to be manned at all times and we are not prepared or equipped to do that.”

Peterborough Town Clerk Linda Guyette said that her office also lacks the personnel to properly supervise a drop box, and so the option is not currently available for town residents.

Though not specifying why, clerks from Rindge and Walpole likewise said they aren’t planning to use drop boxes, instead asking voters to give ballots directly to the clerk.

Even Keene, the largest municipality in Cheshire County, reports not having enough manpower to staff a drop box. City Clerk Patricia Little said her office cannot designate someone to man one for an extended period of time.

“We do not have the resources to do that sole function [of staffing a drop box],” she said in an email last week, “which is why we have created this satellite office.”

The satellite office is on the second floor of city hall, specifically for the purpose of processing both outgoing and incoming absentee ballots, she explained. That’s just one way local municipalities — even without drop boxes — are working to make voting a bit more convenient for those who want to avoid long lines on Election Day.

Guyette said Peterborough is looking for someone who can sit in the lobby outside the clerk’s office during regular business hours to accept absentee ballots from voters. Girs said Chesterfield will be hosting drive-by drop-off events on Thursday and again on Oct. 22 and 29.

“Folks can swing by the front of our office building from 6-7pm and hand us their completed ballot (or, conceivably, hand us a request for a ballot and receive one in return),” Girs wrote in her email. “We used that process for the Primary which worked out very well.”

Mia Summerson can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1435, or msummerson@keenesentinel.com. Follow her on Twitter @MiaSummerson