We have no way to predict what the impact of the pandemic on elections will be in the fall. Hopefully, we will see fewer restrictions as the virus recedes, but we cannot count on it. Fortunately, we have the opportunity and resources to plan and make changes that will ensure safe, fair, and unfettered voting in the September primary and November general elections no matter what happens. We have time, but there is much to do.
I applaud Gov. Sununu for making New Hampshire’s citizens’ health a clear priority as he manages the state’s response to the pandemic. I am encouraged that the secretary of state and attorney general have announced there will be a loosening of the rules for absentee voting and registration so that anyone concerned about the health effects of COVID-19 will be eligible.
I was glad to see that Secretary of State Gardner convened a “select committee” to advise him on expending $3.2 million in emergency election funding to respond to safety concerns during the current crisis. What I do not understand is his excluding the committee chairs of the Senate and House Election Law committees, and prematurely announcing that no substantive changes in current law will be necessary or considered.
In order to guarantee safe and fair elections we should prepare for the worst-case scenario to ensure that large numbers of voters can register and cast ballots without coming to the polls. No-excuse absentee voting must be officially enacted, at least for this year’s elections. To make this work we will need to develop the capacity for online voter registration and online absentee ballot requests. Also, we must develop adequate capacity for the counting of greatly increased absentee ballots. We must recruit more poll workers who are not in the “vulnerable” category. And we need to reduce numbers of voters on election day to allow for social distancing. This might involve extended polling hours.
Last, but perhaps most important, we must have a robust educational campaign to disseminate information about electoral changes and inform citizens how they can vote while maintaining their safety. Balancing public health, the economy and the integrity of elections will be complicated, but it can be done. Ultimately, it is Gov. Sununu, along with the N.H. House and Senate, who have the responsibility to do so. The Legislature is ready and willing to help.
288 Church St.
(This writer, a Democrat, represents Cheshire District 16 in the N.H. House.)