Just two weeks remain until the Nov. 3 elections. Because they are being conducted in the midst of a pandemic that has led to expanded opportunities for absentee voting and new precautions at the polls, all who want to vote — and we hope that includes everyone who’s eligible — should develop a plan for casting their ballot either in advance or in person on Election Day.
In New Hampshire, voters have over the years been able to cast an absentee ballot, but only if they certify certain excuses apply, such as being out of town on Election Day or due to illness or disability. This year, however, merely certifying having a “concern for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19)” is sufficient to cast an absentee ballot rather than go to the polls. The process is relatively straightforward, but given this year’s unique circumstances, it’s especially important for voters to check with their municipal election officials or the Secretary of State’s office to ensure they understand the process.
That point was driven home in recent weeks as various partisan interests have either sown confusion or sought advantage in communicating with voters about the absentee voting process.
In just the one-week period beginning Oct. 8, N.H. Attorney General Gordon MacDonald issued three voter alerts warning of misleading or unlawful mailings or other messages relating to absentee ballots. Some were warnings of communications with confusing instructions about needing to return forms even though some recipients may have already requested or returned absentee ballots, including one warning about text messages sent by the Service Employees International Union that advocated for the Biden-Harris campaign. Also this election season, MacDonald has issued cease-and-desist orders to the state Republican Party and the Hanover/Lyme Town Democratic Committee for sending out absentee ballot mailers that don’t comply with state law.
An additional uncertainty with absentee voting this year has been whether the Post Office will be able to deliver mailed-in ballots by 5 p.m. on Election Day, when they must be received. Since election and postal officials have been recommending mailing ballots two weeks in advance, the surest way for voters who haven’t yet requested or sent in their absentee ballots to know their vote will count is to stop by their municipal clerk’s office before Election Day to request and submit their ballots. This can be done during a single visit, and those who have also not yet registered to vote in their city or town can also take care of that at the same time. And anyone who’s mailed in an absentee ballot can confirm it’s arrived by either tracking it through the Secretary of State’s website at https://app.sos.nh.gov/Public/AbsenteeBallot.aspx or calling their municipal clerk’s office.
As for voting at the polls on Election Day, towns and cities are taking a number of steps to accommodate voters safely and to handle same-day registration for those not previously registered. The September primaries provided an opportunity for a trial run, and the precautions implemented — which included various means to keep voters wearing masks safely apart from the maskless — were effective and efficient. Still, the presidential election is sure to drive extraordinary turnout, and voters should factor longer wait times into their planning.
Because of COVID, this election will be unlike any in recent memory, if not ever. But COVID notwithstanding, every eligible voter will, by planning ahead now, have an opportunity to participate. And in making your plan to vote, don’t forget the reliable sources available to seek specific information or answer any questions about registration, absentee voting or casting ballots in person — your town or city clerk or the Secretary of State’s office, whose website can be visited at https://sos.nh.gov/elections/voters/voting-during-covid-19-state-of-emergency/.