Now that the 2020 election is pretty much over, at least here in the Granite State, it’s worth stepping back and noting how remarkably well things went a week ago, in the face of challenging conditions unlike any we’ve seen before.
It wasn’t perfect. It never is. There were some missed absentee ballots in Keene’s Ward 3; a bad memory card for the absentee machine in Ward 5; and results not initially reported to the Secretary of State in Ward 4. In Swanzey, a high number of same-day registrants slowed in-person voting, especially early and late in the day. A few individual voters have reported glitches that made for a frustrating Election Day. And the record turnout and social distancing measures meant waits were longer at times.
But none of those incidents is unusual for a major election, and this one was as major as it gets. The Secretary of State’s Office puts turnout at 814,041 — about 75 percent of eligible N.H. voters. That’s a record number of voters and the highest turnout percentage since 1960.
A big part of that turnout this year was through absentee ballots. Nearly a third of the voting in this election was via absentee ballots, and that’s the first laurel to be handed out here — to Secretary of State William Gardner and Attorney General Gordon MacDonald, who recognized early on that the coronavirus pandemic would likely still be presenting a daunting scenario for many voters. They made clear months ago, and never wavered, that anyone uncomfortable with the idea of voting in person because of the virus could vote absentee.
And that leads to the second laurel: to local election officials, both in Keene and the region’s towns and all over the state, who prepared for the onslaught of ballots via mail or delivered early in person, and who secured and tracked those ballots all the way through Election Day. They weren’t allowed to count them before last Tuesday, yet they got all the work done while also conducting the usual Election Day voting at the polls.
Or, rather, it wasn’t “the usual” Election Day at the polls. It was much more involved, again thanks to the dangers posed by the coronavirus. Workers had to prepare for socially distanced voting; spreading out voting booths, marking spaces in lines, handing out sanitizer and warnings and making sure masks were worn — or, for those who refused to wear them, that alternative measures were in place to safeguard voters and volunteers.
And those volunteers deserve a hand as well. Both the usual crowd — generally older and therefore at higher risk from COVID — and those who stepped up knowing there would be a need for additional help this year.
From the early declaration that ballot access was the priority to the cooperation between local and state elections officials to make sure hundreds of ballots left at an unattended drop box in Swanzey were legitimately counted, the November 2020 general election ought to be considered a great success.
Voting has long been an important right and obligation to Granite Staters, and the state has avoided the kind of embarrassing incidents that have occurred elsewhere regarding hanging chads, counting delays and miscues, and such. We attribute that to excellent leadership from Gardner’s office at the state level and the hard work of city and town clerks and moderators all over New Hampshire.
It also has much to do with the voters themselves. Even given the political differences so obvious in this deeply purple state, attempts at intimidation and confrontations at the polls are rare indeed.
As much as politicians and pundits like to tout our lack of broad, stable revenue streams as the driver behind the state’s success through the years, we see this civic — and civil — engagement as the real New Hampshire advantage.